Image: Ophelia Chong
I am a huge Monty Python fan, and one of my favorites is the film "Life of Brian." There is a scene where Brian is giving a sermon atop a hill. The crowd is trying to hear his every word, but by the time it gets to the back, the original meaning is so far from the truth, it is farcical.
Spectator: I think it was "Blessed are the cheesemakers".
Mrs. Gregory: Aha, what's so special about the cheesemakers?
Gregory: Well, obviously it's not meant to be taken literally; it refers to any manufacturers of dairy products.
Before the internet, standing in a crowd meant conversations floated by -- pieces were heard, misheard, archived, or discarded. Now with mobile technology we tweet "overheard at Starbucks" or post photos of egregious outfits or the cupcake we are about to eat. We also can spread a trending topic around the world in nano seconds.
This week I was at Disneyland enjoying brain-churning rides and trying not to lose my lunch when waiting for a ride, a friend of mine reading his phone exclaimed, "OMG, Pacquiao just called for the death of all gays!" I was astounded and wondered what he said. Later in the car I heard on the news that he was banned from The Grove, a local mall, for his comments.
By the time I sat down at my computer I was reading about petitions for Nike to release Pacquiao from his contract. The LA Weekly led off with the headline "Manny Pacquiao says Gay Men Should be Put to Death." Later they posted a new headline: "Update: Manny Pacquiao Did Not Say Gay Men Should Be Put to Death,"
or loosely translated "Oops, our bad."
The article they sourced was written by the Filipino sports/Bible Prophecy reporter Granville Ampong of Examiner.com (anyone can write for them, and the postings are not edited or vetted for accuracy). Ampong failed to delineate his views on homosexuality from Pacquiao's, adding a quote from Leviticus calling for the death of a man who lies with a man. ("I told [the reporter] I'm against same-sex marriage," Pacquiao told CBS News. "He said, 'Why?' I said, 'It's the law of God.' That's all I said."). Ampong's mea culpa consists of blaming the reader and other journalists who reposted his piece for his lack of basic journalistic skills.
We have to be more vigilant about what we repost and tweet. Whatever view or opinion Pacquiao has on gay marriage is his own, just as much as my opinion is mine. What is more worrisome is the speed in which the misinformation spread and the subsequent reactions, from two petitions calling for his removal from Nike sponsorship to being banned from a local mall.
As a public figure he has his defenders, but what if it was just a common person who was slandered online? Is this phenomenon the Salem Witch Trials of the 21st century? Can anyone accuse us of misdeeds regardless of any evidence? Yes. And try scrubbing that from the internet. You can post your rebuttal, but the original post/tweet will always be there to appear in a Google search. Just as the first-accused Sarah Good, Sarah Osborne, and Tituba at the Salem Witch Trials, we might be called out just because someone doesn't like us.
Another example is the Kony2012 campaign: a moving, manipulative video goes viral, yet no one really knows who the group behind the campaign is. Later we find out it is a Christian group partially funded by the Caster family, one of the biggest financial backers of California's anti-gay marriage initiative, Proposition 8. The ease of clicking on a button bypasses the part in our brain that usually questions whether we really should attach our name to something we don't know anything about. We think about which button to press in an elevator longer than we do about "liking" something on Facebook.
"I read it on the internet so it must be true" - Benjamin Franklin
Artist, designer and teacher Ophelia Chong explores her adopted city of Los Angeles with an eye and ear for the small moments that tests the duality of being an Asian American. Join her on her journey every Thursday on KCET's SoCal blog