It’s been a few days since news first broke that the entire country of France collectively decided to stomp their mud-ridden shoes on Steve Harvey’s couch. (And, with what we know of Harvey’s fashion tastes, this was presumably a purple silk couch with solid gold pinstripes and Old Spice-scented accent pillows — definitely not something that would respond well to mud).
Predictably, the story spread pretty quickly. A quick Google of “Think Like a Man France” results in (at least) 10 pages of blogs, stories, articles, and message board threads all devoted to discussing the fact that the surprisingly well-grossing Think Like a Man film was “banned by France.” Most of these pieces reported the same facts, while others took more of a meta/deconstructionist approach to the story, using it as a segue to discuss everything from how French racism compares to British racism to how the French pushback might be due to them thinking that “Steve Harvey” was a shell person created by Tyler Perry to trick France into releasing his film.
Yet, there’s been a minor problem with all of this discussion—the fact that "France banned Think Like a Man" isn’t actually a fact. Actually, let me rephrase that. It’s not that it’s definitely not a fact. It’s that, at this moment, we have absolutely no way of knowing whether or not this rumor is actually true. Each of these stories about France’s ban of the movie came from the same source — Fabienne Flessel, a teacher who blogs at Global Voices — and all of her sources are other blogs.
The issue here isn’t Flessel, Global Voices, or Flessel’s blog, though. Again, she may very well be right. Perhaps some high-ranking French government or entertainment official did decide that, for whatever reason, Think Like a Man wasn’t worthy of French theaters. And, I’m sure she knows much more about the French film industry than I and most of us reading this do. I’m more concerned with how quick we were to share, write about, speak on, criticize, examine, break down, tweet, and retweet a story as hyperbolic as “The Country of France Bans All-Black Movie!!!” without first verifying its validity.
This “fact” has been floating around for a week now, a week with no official word about this from anyone connected to Think Like a Man— no producers, actors, directors, consultants, or anyone else has said anything regarding this story. There also hasn’t been any on-the-record word from anyone connected to the French movie industry or French government; no explanation, no half-assed apology, nothing. For all we know, if Think Like a Man was actually banned, maybe it’s because a Kevin Hart joke about French fries and coke pissed off (French President) Francois Hollande. Who knows? I do know that something like this shouldn’t immediately pass our collective sniff tests without even a hint of skepticism.
Admittedly, this phenomenon of sharing info with shaky sources is completely understandable. As blogger, writer, and professional editor, I attend weekly service at the Holy United Church of Unique Visitors and Protestant Page Views too. Sh*t, I even lead the Tuesday Bible study classes. I definitely recognize the importance of being first and of not being left out of the discussion — two things with a direct correlation to ad revenue and pay checks — and I’ve definitely shared information that I didn’t take the time to verify.
But, “understandable” doesn’t mean “right,” and the real danger in doing this has to do with how hard is it to erase the first bit of informative from our brains, even if that info is proven to be false. Most of us learned as early as middle school that, by the time a viral rumor is shown not to be true, we already stopped caring about it enough to even bother to change the switch from “True” to “False” in our minds. Basically, if the rumor swirls that Kevin Smith got beat up at the bus stop, we’re likely to continue to believe it even after finding out that Kevin was home sick from school and didn’t even get into a fight.
This may not seem like a big deal—I mean, we are talking about a romantic comedy here, not the economy or the election—but this quickness to share and reluctance to vet unverified info can have dire consequences. If you don’t believe me, take a poll of America and see how many people still think President Obama isn’t a native citizen.
Again, the Think Like a Man rumor may well turn out to be true. The world does have a peculiar relationship with African-American cinema, and fire does have a funny way of deciding to show up whenever smoke is involved. But, until I receive some actual word from someone directly connected to this story, I’ll continue to assume that Steve Harvey’s zoot-suited couch is safe.