Hansel And Gretel – A Cautionary Tale

From Diane M. Nault

The children’s story starts out innocently enough.  Two young children wandering out in the forest, dropping breadcrumbs along the path hoping to mark their way back home.  Deep in the darkness they come upon a wondrous house encrusted with sugary treats – gingerbread covers the sides; candies of all kinds tempt the children to come forward and to sample each delicious bite.  They can’t believe their good fortune!

Persuaded to go inside by what appears to be a kindly old woman, they enter the house.  Hansel and Gretel are dazzled by the display of even more and more tempting sweets inside.  They are lulled into believing they have reached their own perfect paradise.

Suddenly the tide turns, and Hansel and Gretel realize they are now in great danger.  The kindly old woman is really a witch who has every intention of devouring them.  The bedazzled gingerbread house is a trap constructed to capture the unsuspecting children.  And those breadcrumbs left to guide them back home?  Gone!  All gone.

Social media is a lot like that wondrous gingerbread house in the children’s story.  We are lured inside, clicking into articles, opinion pieces and sites that seem legitimate but are all too often designed to trap the unsuspecting into a whirlpool of misinformation, personal attacks, and a net of unreliable sources each with their own secret agendas.  Nothing beyond photos posted online by a friend or a family member is there innocently.  Online sites are designed to seek “likes,” to promote a product, to solicit funds, or to sway your opinion of certain people or certain beliefs.  They lull you into believing you are a critical part of the discussion or that a particular product is essential to your happiness.  Opinion pieces are often echo chambers.  The more you agree with the content, the more similar posts are sent to you.

I joined Facebook mainly to share photos with close friends and family members. What’s not to like?  Especially when Covid locked us inside our houses. Facebook seemed like a needed outlet for keeping in touch.  But once hooked, the lure of Facebook became more addictive and more sinister.

I soon realized that if I click on a seemingly innocent photo of kittens, I immediately got flooded by more similar sites.  Kittens seeking adoption, kittens needing medical procedures, lost kittens, found kittens, injured kittens, kittens, kittens, kittens.  It seemed to be a never-ending series of everything related to kittens all posted to my Facebook site.

And then came the sites of animals in danger…After clicking on a photo of a creature trapped in a hole, swimming for its life in a river, or crying out for help after some tragedy…a fire, a flood, an earthquake, I started to see a pattern.  After a while I began to wonder how it is that there is always some person nearby who can film this incident and I wondered why this unseen person didn’t put down the camera and help the poor animal!!  I admit to being so suspicious of these posts that I wonder if someone is actually putting these animals in danger just to be able to post the photos and to solicit funds.  Just how many baby elephants fall into deep mud-holes in Africa?  Just how many dogs have fallen into an icy lake?  And just how likely is it that someone is right there to film the whole incident?

If I scroll to the end of the rescue, I usually find these “rescue” groups are found in foreign countries.  I must admit I have become cynical, and I am dismayed to think someone is purposely putting animals in threatening situations simply to solicit money from sympathetic viewers.

Facebook and social media sites are digital telemarketers.  They are designed to lure the user into some nebulous scheme to gain your trust, to pique your curiosity, to promote an opinion, or to sell you something.  They prey upon your naiveté and your goodwill.  And these social media sites are addictive.  They survive on the “likes” and the feedback the users give them.  The more you engage, the more posts of similar content pop up on your page. Nothing is real.  It is all sugary treats with little substance.  And if the user is not careful, finding the way back home is impossible. 

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