The following editorial appeared in the Charleston Gazette-Mail. It does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Times-News.

It was a simple post with a line graph to back it up.

“Violent crime dropped like a rock following West Virginia’s adoption of permitless carry,” said the social media post first appearing on Facebook in September, which went on to say that relaxed gun regulations have never been connected to a rise in such crimes.

The source was an outfit called Clergy in Support of the Second Amendment, a nebulous group that has a website offering visitors to peruse blog posts with titles like “Did Jesus order his disciples to be armed?”

Tabling what the biblical son of God might have thought about semiautomatic weapons, the nonprofit fact-checking organization PolitiFact took a look at the actual statement and graph on violent crime in the Mountain State, rating it “Mostly False.”

There was indeed a drop in violent crime in West Virginia in 2017 and 2018, the first two years after the Legislature passed a law allowing residents 21 and older to carry a concealed firearm without a permit or training. Of course, that’s where Clergy in Support of the Second Amendment’s graph stops. Had it continued, it would’ve shown violent crime rising in 2019 and 2020, data that was available to the group that posted the statement, but was not included. PolitiFact said the group didn’t respond to a request for comment. Go figure.

What’s more, according to experts interviewed by PolitiFact, violent crime might not be the best indicator of the effects of permitless carry, as the category covers many criminal charges that typically don’t involve firearms and also are underreported because they can involve domestic or sexual abuse. Experts said homicides are a better statistic , although still not ideal, because not every homicide involves a firearm. Homicides dipped slightly in West Virginia in 2017 and 2018 (hardly a rock-like drop), but went up in 2019 and 2020, according to PolitiFact.

This is another example of how easily deceptive information is shared on social media. Fortunately, Facebook flagged the post and asked PolitiFact to check it out.

Of course, recent revelations about Facebook show that this is not the case often enough, and the site’s main concern, according to congressional testimony given by a former executive, is keeping eyeballs on the site and fingers clicking links.

Even in this case, there was some damage done, because the post was viewed and shared before it was flagged.

The nature of the problem is that Facebook isn’t held, nor does it hold itself, to the same standards actual news organizations do when it comes to what gets posted. But, like it or not, the site is viewed by many as a source of news. And, for every statement that gets flagged and exhaustively checked out by groups like PolitiFact, there are thousands more that go under the radar or the company chooses to ignore. Facebook defers to common sense on a platform where such a concept is nonexistent, and the United States has seen the disastrous, sometimes violent, results.

While the burden of proof or blame deserves to be shared by the individual consuming or proliferating false or deceptive information, this is ultimately Facebook’s problem and one they’ve apparently knowingly ignored for a while. This doesn’t get solved until the social media behemoth gets serious about the situation.

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