Scanning through posts on Facebook, the hanging of the monkey becomes a credible story.
The accusation that has been levelled against various communities that they were the “people who hanged the monkey” come from the suggestion that people from an English east coast town assumed a monkey that came ashore from a shipwrecked ship during the Napoleonic wars was a soldier from the French army. Because they knew no better, they are said to have hanged the monkey as a dangerous enemy.
Even two hundred years ago, the story seems too far fetched to be credible; English sailors and soldiers had regularly encountered their French counterparts and would rapidly have dismissed the ridiculous assumption. But look at the access to information available to people in the 21st Century, and look at what people will still believe; it is not hard to imagine that some Facebook users would have been the sort of people who would have hanged an unfamiliar creature coming ashore from a shipwreck.
The Internet has become a place that entertains, it has become less and less one that informs and educates. Its potential for sharing material that is carefully researched, subject to peer review, and open to independent verification is being overtaken by it place as a platform for the extreme, the esoteric, and the plainly fruitcake.
People will readily share allegations and accusations against public figures, they will readily propagate conspiracy theories, they will readily give credence to the most fantastic stories,without ever once giving a thought to perhaps hesitating for the few seconds and asking what evidence there might be to verify the stories that they are sharing.
Perhaps the alleged behaviour of a 19th Century coastal community owed much to the times and place in which they lived; the real fear of invasion might cause a mood of panic among uneducated and uniformed people and in a remote community, who was there who would question their actions?
Ignorance now is not a matter of isolation or a lack of access to information, it is an actively made choice; judging by the material that is posted, people simply do not wish to encounter anything that challenges the views they have already formed.
Extreme political parties of the Left and the Right are almost conventional, their assertions are predictable, their aspirations to world revolution or racial purity are part of a long tradition. Similarly, there is a centuries old tradition of religious groups making outlandish claims. Whatever one might make of the claims of the political and religious extremists, there is an internal coherence in their thought.
The Internet, and the social media it facilitates, has brought an age of unreason; it has brought the potential for the arbitrary, the bizarre, and the plainly fabricated to be disseminated, generally without challenge or criticism. Facebook, and other social media providers, assume a laissez-faire attitude, occasionally removing the most offensive of material, but generally allowing prejudice and false stories to pass without intervention. One wonders how far things will go before there is a hanging.