, Muskogee, OK

April 16, 2014

Snake scare shows need for skepticism

— We must approach things we see on social media with a healthy dose of skepticism.

A monster came to Muskogee last week, or so you might have thought if you saw a photo posted to Facebook.

Jeremiah Brennan took a photo of a large snake in a tree near the intersection of North Main and Douglas streets and posted the photo to Facebook.

Things are not always what they appear. The old saw about seeing being believing is false.

Photos do lie, even when there is no intent to deceive. Brennan took the photo up close. The combination of wide-angle perspective, the size of the tree that the snake was hanging on and the building in the background made the serpent look huge.

Facebook blew up with comments. The Phoenix and the police received calls.

“I was not expecting it to blow up on Facebook that way at all,” Brennan said. “I can understand the angle it’s at is deceiving, but the way it blew up and put fear into people is surprising.”

The snake was a harmless black rat snake, around 4 feet long. That is about a medium-size snake for the species.

Many were concerned. That isn’t surprising. But the deceiving angle is not uncommon.

Joshua Engelbert, a reptile expert at the Tulsa Zoo, said the angle of the photograph is commonly used to make something appear much larger than it is.

“This is a popular camera trick used a lot for big fish photographs,” Engelbert said.

It just illustrates how we must take what we see on the Web and on social media with a grain of salt.

We have all seen photos in which it looks as if a vacationer is holding the Statue of Liberty in the palm of her hand. But it is not just photos that can be deceiving.

Many today get a lot of their information from Facebook, Twitter and other forms of social media.

Caution is required. In many ways, the things passed around are like gossip in the town square. Our reactions must be tempered.

We should consider both the source of the information and its nature.

If a photo or post is inflammatory, we must check it against other sources.

We should always treat what we see and read, particularly when it is shocking or inspires fear, as needing further verification.

We have enough things to be concerned about without facing monster snakes.