The headline is catchy: ‘Mom was called to school after her daughter hit another student. Her response was perfect.’
The article last night appeared twice in my Facebook feed within a span of 30 minutes, so I decided to click. Here’s the gist of the story: An ER nurse is called into school because her daughter misbehaved. The nurse is treated rudely for arriving late, then she is told her daughter hit another student in the face after the male student snapped her bra strap.
The bra-snapping doesn’t sit well with Mom. When it becomes evident that school officials are more concerned with the punch thrown by her daughter than the bra-snapping, Mom moves in for the kill:
Me: “You let him do this? Why didn’t you stop him? Come over here and let me touch the front of your trousers.”
Teacher: “What? No!”
Me: “Does that seem inappropriate to you? Why don’t you go and pull on the counselor’s bra right now. See how fun it is for her. Or on that boy’s mom’s bra. Or mine. You think just because they’re kids it’s fun?”
Principal: “With all due respect, your daughter still beat another child.”
Me: “No. She defended herself against a sexual attack from another pupil. Look at them. He’s a foot taller than her and twice as heavy. How many times should she have let him touch her? If the person who was supposed to help and protect her in a classroom couldn’t be bothered what should she have done? He pulled her bra so hard it came undone.”
The boy’s mom is still crying and his dad looks both angry and embarrassed. The teacher won’t make eye contact with me.
I was so angry I gathered my daughter’s things and left. I reported it to the superintendent, and was assured it was strongly dealt with.
The story is perfect. A girl is harassed by a male student much bigger than she is, and she gives the bully a knuckle sandwich.
It’s also completely phony.
The apocryphal story has been floating around the internet for at least two and a half years. I first read the story on Shareably, a media company “dedicated to enriching and impacting the lives of its readers,” which published the article on Oct. 13. One of my Facebook friends was one of four thousand people who shared it.
The story’s path to virality is worth a look. Shareably got the story from InspireMore, who got the story from HrtWarming, where it was shared more than a million times. (Collectively, these three sites have about 8 million Facebook followers.) The Daily Mail, always eager for clickbait, published it two weeks later. It has been republished by dozens of sites and probably read by tens of millions.
One need not have a PhD in psychology to see why people like the story. It’s a morality play designed to appeal to us. Strong mother defending her child? Check. Bully dealt swift justice? Check. Sniveling bureaucrat put in his place? Check.
What I find mildly troubling is that nobody seems to care that the story isn’t true. Even the fact-checking website Snopes calls the story “Unproven,” conceding tongue-in-cheek that “somewhere at some school at some time some girl hit some boy after some boy snapped some girl’s bra. Possibly.”
I asked the first of my friends who shared the article on Facebook if she believed it was true. Here is her reply:
“Even if it isn’t, it’s an important reminder that no means no, stop means stop, and no person — because of gender, race, religion or sexual preference—should be judged, harassed or assaulted. Parenting 101. Let’s raise good and civilized people.”
Her response did not surprise me. It was reminiscent of responses I’d get after I’d point out that some actor—usually Robin Williams or Morgan Freeman—did not actually say the words in an email chain. The person who forwarded it to me usually would protest that, nonetheless, it was still a good message.
I’ve come to believe that many people don’t really care about truth. If the rise of “fake news” has taught us anything, it’s that people primarily want their biases confirmed and to win.
No doubt this is in part because we live in an era defined by propaganda and ideology. But I wonder if it also stems from the fact that mankind no longer believes in the idea of truth at all.
In his 1943 essay “Looking back on the Spanish War,” George Orwell observed that propaganda and mass media were distorting truth in ways he found unconscionable.
“I saw great battles reported where there had been no fighting, and complete silence where hundreds of men had been killed. I saw troops who had fought bravely denounced as cowards and traitors, and others who had never seen a shot fired hailed as the heroes of imaginary victories,” Orwell wrote. “This kind of thing is frightening to me, because it often gives me the feeling that the very concept of objective truth is fading out of the world.”
Fake news—especially of the bra-snapping variety—might not seem like a big deal. But next time you share or forward an article, you might want to stop and ask a simple question: Is this true?
Jonathan Miltimore is the Managing Editor of FEE.org. His writing/reporting has appeared in TIME magazine, The Wall Street Journal, CNN, Forbes, Fox News, and the Washington Times.