Hoaxes flourish in social media

This was supposed to be a column where I remembered the late Bill Nye.

I was going to talk about seeing him on TV when I was a kid, and how I will still chant to myself, "Bill Bill Bill Bill Bill Bill Bill Bill BILL NYE THE SCIENCE GUY," whenever he'd come on places I wouldn't expect, like news commentary shows and ESPN Radio segments.

I was going to tell you he was the only man who could still pull off a bow tie after his 21st birthday.

I was going to tell you about the amazing shortcuts I still use via baking soda and vinegar, thanks to his inspiration all those years ago.

But I can't write that column, because he hasn't died. It was a not-so-elaborate Twitter hoax, followed by a "RIP Bill Nye" Facebook page that thousands of people — including my friends — had liked.

I could only shake my head Sunday night, wondering how all of these people inspired by Bill Nye could be duped. If only there was some process — or better yet, a method — where somebody could hypothesize something, but not trust it until they compiled evidence and added it together to either prove or disprove that statement. Maybe some guy taught it to them, and they forgot.

So I moved on. I decided that I would instead write about how I would miss Bill Cosby.

Sure, he hadn't done much in the last decade or so. But he made generations laugh, and he still does thanks to "The Cosby Show" streaming on Netflix. I've streamed the entire series, amazed at how well it holds up — other than the occasional episode where the presence of a cell phone would obliterate the entire conflict. ("Why don't we just call Theo and ask if he's running late?")

I would have written about how he inspired generations to love Jell-O and be wary of movies missing the first five parts — even in failure, "Leonard Part VI" could teach us some type of lesson.

But I can't write that column, because he hasn't died. It was a not-so-elaborate Twitter hoax, followed by a "RIP Bill Cosby" Facebook page that thousands of people — including my friends — had liked.

That was Monday night, and I'm still shaking my head a little bit.

Twitter and Facebook have the power to start movements. But they also have the power to overtake people's feelings and ability to be rational.

I had a friend this weekend who posted that he was unfriending anybody still cheering for Walter White on "Breaking Bad." It's amazing that he would delete me for siding with a fictional character, despite that fact that I drove four hours to be at a wedding for his actual cousin.

The more power we give Internet musings, the less we should be surprised when hoaxes gain steam. Maybe I'll make a Facebook page too.

RIP Common Sense.

Kevin Wilson is a columnist for Clovis Media Inc. He can be contacted at 763-3431, ext. 313, or by email:

kwilson@cnjonline.com

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