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'Sylvester Stallone dies in horrific crash'...

...no he didn't, but if you had to believe all that is posted on Facebook, apparently the Hollywood tough guy also died in a skiing accident.

The story recently spread like wildfire among the online community, prompting panic among fans from all over the world. In the real world though, Stallone is apparently flexing his muscles to shoot Rambo 5.

It is one of hundreds of false 'news' stories disseminated on social media where sharing has become an inextricable part of contemporary culture.

While many of the false stories are just amusing (‘Prince William divorces Kate Middleton after five weeks’), and others purely sensational (‘Missing Malaysia plane found near Bermuda Triangle’), we are seeing an increasing number of malicious reports merely intended to spread hate.

Social media has become a primary news source, especially in the wake of so-called citizen journalism. It is often the place where news of political uprisings, disasters and triumphs are reported first. The Hudson River plane crash in 2009 was reported within seconds on Twitter. Joseph Muscat tweeted a picture of himself embracing a minister he had effectively sacked before the media had a whiff of it.

Unfortunately, the truth sometimes gets lost in the rush to share. An analysis by The Guardian suggested up to 15 per cent of the most shared items during Hurricane Sandy were misleading or deliberately falsified.

One of the posts on my Facebook news feed shows a little girl with three rifles pointed to its head claiming ISIS members were about to kill her.

Such antics from a group of demented barbarians would hardly be surprising, but it now emerged that the photo originally appeared online last April on the Facebook page of an individual from Yemen. The image then started popping up on pro-Syrian Army websites claiming it was an Armenian child who was taken by Syrian rebels. While the identity of the girl has not been established what we do know is that ISIS was not involved and was not recently taken in Iraq.

It has become the norm to read fictitious stories intended merely to portray Muslims as terrorists and Christian persecutors.

In a nutshell, we have become all too quick to paint all Muslims with the same paintbrush.

A quick scroll through my Facebook news feed this morning produced six videos with inserted caption portraying Muslims/black people/migrants as child killers/terrrorists/savages.

There was one common thread - all videos and posts were taken out of context. Many were accompanied by the template apocalypse warning to the Maltese that the black migrants/Muslims in our midst will soon take over our island and impose their savage beliefs upon us.

One post being shared shows a bearded Muslim (my guess) man with crooked teeth with the caption: “All I want to do is move to your country, rape your women, bomb your buses and demand you accept my religion.”

What we don't understand is that the Muslim living next door/in the detention camp is likely to condemn those who kill in the name of Islam as much as we do.

What we need to understand, especially in an increasingly troubled world is our tendency to be drawn to the overblown, immediately gratifying and sensational videos and pictures at the touch of a key. The consequences of watching them and sharing them without verification could be serious.

It is so easy to spread unsubstantiated claims and douse fuel over the flames by playing on people’s natural disgust of violence.

The least we could do is to refrain from participating in the spread of lies. The consequences on a society that aggressively blurs the line between fiction and reality could be serious.

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