Studying geology is a hobby for me. I subscribe to some FB groups that feature items about geology. However, this post from Geology of the world and the Environment is fake. I fell for it and stupidly shared it into my timeline, tagging my youngest daughter, who is a geologist and microbiologist, seeking her input (she was out of town at the time so I did not get a reply).
When I first saw it, I read up on “Watermelon Snow” – which is a genuine, real world occurrence caused by an algae that appears pink in snow and sometimes in ice. I read an item at Nature (the web site of the globally known science journal), as well as others to verify that there is such a thing as pink snow and ice. I then foolishly shared this item on Facebook.
It’s been shared over 1,300 times on FB within a day or two. The pink iceberg photo, by itself, was also widely shared before this version was created.
But the item is 100% total fake.
This red iceberg was colored by an artist using food dye (more about that here). The original – non-pink version – of the left most pink iceberg appears in this news story and is likely re-colored in PhotoShop or similar tools.
I have asked the Geology of the World page to retract the post. They have not acknowledged the item is fake, in spite of numerous people pointing this out to them. I have also emailed the page owner – I will update this if I get a response.
Why This Social Media “Propaganda” Item Worked
Pink snow, also known as “watermelon snow” is a real phenomena, caused by algae growth. Because of that, the pink ice claim is plausible (photo here) which lends authenticity to the alleged pink icebergs.
Second, this was created and distributed on Facebook by the Geology of the World and Environment page, lending an aura of authenticity to the bogus claim. (But see below – that web page appears to be using others’ content without citation). Perhaps Geology of the World was also duped; regardless, due to its following on social media, this created an “appeal to authority” type designation. Once shared, this becomes a “new fact”.
The only thing any of us learned from this item is that social media is a friction-less platform for spreading propaganda – and garbage. I conclude the harms of social media are greater than the benefits.
Text for Search Indexing
pink algae iceberg “Watermelon Snow”
the pink iceberg is the result of algae which is growing in the ice and has been effected [sic] by UV rays which results in the algae producing this reddish pink color
The Geology of the World and Environment Facebook page appears to use content from other sources without citing the source.
For example, this appears on their blogspot page:
Compare this to the following text appearing in The Student’s Guide to Geology by Sir Charles Lyell:
The latter text is most likely out of copyright and in the public domain so it may be freely used. However, the source should be cited as the source, other wise, this is considered plagiarism, which is passing on the work of others, as if it was your work.
Presumably the page creator wants to be sharing enthusiasm for geology. That’s great – I endorse that! However, it would be best to cite sources for items created elsewhere.
How can we trust anything on social media?
I no longer have any idea. I tried to verify the claims made before I shared the item on Facebook – however, I did not then use Google Image search to look for the original items appearing in the photos.
In spite of my bull shit detector set to maximum, I fell for this fake item. And felt very foolish for having done so.
I am very discouraged – and you should be too – about continuing to use Facebook or any social media due to the low signal-to-noise ratio (or stated the other way, a high noise to signal ratio). There is no effective filter available to identify the signal in social media’s high noise environment.