Recent misinformed stories that circulated about the birth of a ‘newborn baby born holding an IUD’ should be a wake-up call for us to be more critical of the news we read and share
We all hear of the dangers of fake news. It isn’t possible these days to talk about Brexit or the Trump Presidency without hearing about so-called ‘Alternative Facts’. Yet, for something that is so widespread, it is uncommon to be able to observe clear instances where fake news is developed.
Recently, a Twitter user exposed a Reddit thread dedicated to taking down Emmanuel Macron by starting rumours, and tracked the progression of these randomly-planted rumours, which then was eventually picked up by the news. I feel as though I have actually seen this take place with a different recent news story, with perhaps a little less malice, but with equally worrying implications.
Before the conception of her baby, Alabama mother Lucy Hellein had a hormonal coil implanted, sometimes known as an IUD, as a contraceptive measure. This technology typically has a success rate of over 99.9 per cent. However, she discovered that, this time, she was part of the less than 0.1 per cent.
After this, she went to get an ultrasound only to find out she was actually 18 weeks pregnant. The coil did not show up on the ultrasound, and so the medical staff there suggested that it must have fallen out, which was then why it had seemingly failed.
Because of a previous birth, Hellien chose to have a C-section. The surgeon thought it wise to check for the coil as there was no confirmation that it had fallen out. It was actually hidden within the placenta, as Hellein had conceived within a week of the coil being implanted, as this can happen depending on what point the woman is within her menstrual cycle. Hellein then thought it would be quite comedic to post about how the implant had failed, and then posed the newborn baby, named Dexter, holding the implant in his hand.
At least, this is how the story went when I read it on the morning of Tuesday 2nd of May, when I first saw it as random article in my newsfeed. This article, by Mail Online, said that the picture was misleading and potentially looked as though the baby had been born holding the coil. By the evening, Unilad were reporting that the miracle baby was born holding the coil, even choosing to run it as the headline of the article.
This may seem like a harmless bit of misinformation, but it shows how easily news can spread and be manipulated. The Daily Mail, publisher of Mail Online, is one of the UK’s biggest newspapers, and UniLad is the most popular media content publisher on Facebook, with their videos ranking as most popular, accruing a total of 2.5 billion views.
This article itself already has over 50,000 reactions and 10,000 shares as I am writing this, and will no doubt continue to get more as time goes on. So for most people, this bit of misinformation is as good as the truth. The only version of this story that they know is the version where Dexter was born holding the coil.
This altered story has the potential for harm. It could easily get swept up by anti-abortion campaigners, and could have massive implications on the already limited rights of women. I have no doubt that they would argue that the foetus had to, in some way, defend itself, and then would go on to create moralising and humanising perspectives from this.
Women’s abortion rights are already under threat in America, with the Planned Parenthood budget shrinking more and more with each step towards Trumpcare. All it may take to sway senators and representatives is one powerful speech and this will harm millions.
As we have seen before, successful speeches are meaningful, but they aren’t necessarily true. If a politician or a campaigner says something with enough emotion, people often believe it. The average voter will not go and fact check every speech and article they read before they share it with their friends.
The majority of people who share UniLad’s article about Lucy Hellein will not bother to check that it is correct before sharing it. One reason for this might be that people may not realise the potential implications of such content. Something like this seems like either a harmless mistake on the part of UniLad, or maybe a small but intentional oversight to create a more clickable headline. But the potential implications are real and dangerous.
This should be a wake-up call for everyone to start being more cautious of what we see on social media. Whilst this example is yet to be harmful, it could easily escalate, as other fake news has. We must start to think critically as we read the news, and we must also realise that by sharing things, we give them a voice.
By sharing fake news, you make it louder, and give it a wider reach. By doing so, you are complicit in the pervasive problem that is fake news.