VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Growing furor online over rainbow poppies appears to be a case of fake news.
Posts online are stirring up outrage, suggesting the LGBTQ+ community is pushing an alternative to the traditional poppy. The original, red poppy, worn to commemorate veterans in the lead-up to Remembrance Day, appears to be redone, with each petal a different colour.
But claims the new poppy is widespread are false.
There are posts indicating an artist once sold them online, and the photo of that poppy, an enamel rainbow pin that has since been taken down, appears to have been used in every post decrying the LGBTQ+ community co-opting Remembrance Day.
But there is no mainstream movement among the LGBTQ+ community to use them, the poppies are not mass produced and are not even available to buy in Canada.
Social media expert Susie Parker says people need to be more critical about what they read and share online.
“If I couldn’t explain to somebody else in plain, clear language what happened, maybe I shouldn’t be sharing that content, or even consuming it myself,” she says.
And Ryerson journalism professor Marsha Barber says people are too trusting of what they see on Facebook and Twitter.
“You see that your friends are concerned in sharing these posts, so unfortunately, it gives these posts a kind of heightened credibility, but it’s so important that people think critically,” she says.
“People tend to trust online media posts, wrongly and unfortunately, because their friends share them. You see these posts on Facebook, you see them in intimate settings.”
So how did this misinformation spread so fast? It all centres around a high school in Manitoba.
A post from Cyara Bird, a Conservative candidate in last month’s election, went viral on Wednesday with almost 5,000 retweets and nearly 75,000 likes.
The tweet alleges her 17-year-old cousin was suspended from a Manitoba high school by her choral teacher after refusing to wear a rainbow poppy instead of a red one during a ceremony.
“My 17 year old cousin was suspended today… want to know why?” the tweet said. “Her choir teacher was demanding that the choir wear rainbow poppies during their performance in the Remembrance Day ceremony. She and another student rejected that idea, and both were suspended for ‘hate speech.'”
Bird’s Twitter account has since been made private.
“The message that I think was sent by this teacher and by this school was inappropriate, that’s not a message that you should be sending to a young woman,” she said.
CityNews Winnipeg went to the school where the incident took place to independently verify what happened, but that’s when the facts of the story started to shift. Students told CityNews no one was forced to wear rainbow poppies, and that students were suspended because of a poster they hung up around the school protesting rainbow poppies, which bordered on hate speech.
While the CityNews reporter saw hundreds of students wearing red poppies at the school, there was no evidence rainbow poppies were present.
In response, the Board of Trustees of the Interlake School Division, where the incident happened, posted on Twitter:
“In light of misinformation which has been widely spread on social media, we will share that at no point did any staff member of Stonewall Collegiate or Interlake School Division direct, nor mandate, any student to wear a ‘rainbow poppy.'”
The school and school division would not comment further on any matters regarding specific students, citing privacy matters.
This is an example of why social media users shouldn’t jump to conclusions and pass judgement when they become emotional about something posted online, Parker says.
“I think that’s a very human emotion, to feel like ‘Oh, I can’t believe that happened to somebody.’ The second part of that is when you then share the story or that questionable link and go on your own kind of spinning of events.”
Parker says when she first heard about the incident at the Manitoba school, she went online to do her own research, found it was missing information, and that gave her pause. She found Bird’s original tweet and thought what was included was one-sided, and so were the comments attached.
She says social media consumers need to ask who the person behind the information is, and why they’re putting it out.
“What are the actual facts, what can we glean from what actually happened? Versus the opinions that are spinning around it. What that means is we should stop, take a step back and say ‘Ok, what really happened here?'”