“Internet fact or actual fact?”

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In season three/episode four of the Andy Griffith Show (first aired October 22, 1962), Opie advises his father, Andy, not to lick the tip of the pencil he’s about to write with. Opie says, “It’s an indelible pencil. If you lick indelible, you die in a minute and a half.” His father asks Opie who told him that. “Johnny Paul Jason.” This is after Opie has shared a few other similar ‘facts’ that Johnny Paul Jason has uttered. Andy replies, “Boy sure is a gold mine of made-up facts.” Johnny Paul Jason would be right at home with today’s Internet.

I visited with a friend last week at a conference. He told me that upon someone telling his daughter, Melina Gurung, something that sounded questionable, she replied, “Is that an Internet fact or an actual fact?” What a great response! The subtext: “That sounds like a bunch of baloney. Have you checked the source to see if it’s legitimate? Or are you just repeating it?” Isn’t Gurung’s phrasing beautifully concise? It immediately puts the onus back on the speaker: “Is that an Internet fact or an actual fact?” The speaker has to stop and consider the source. Back in the 1960s, Opie’s father would have asked, “Is that a Johnny Paul Jason fact or an actual fact?”

Just a couple of days ago I learned that today’s Johnny Paul Jasons are sharing tax advice on TikTok (Dietz, 2024). No, creating a limited liability company (LLC) does not mean you can deduct your groceries from your taxes. No, as a business owner, you cannot list your 4-year-old as an employee. If the person giving you tax advice is a tax attorney or an accountant, you can give what they say some credibility. But a seemingly random person? Is that really a good idea? When it comes to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS), actual facts are less likely to land you in hot water than are Internet facts.

Have you seen the photo of the British Airways plane with a flock of birds in the foreground? (Shout out to Linda Woolf for sharing this with me.) The Internet fact says that smuggled exotic birds were on the plane, and that’s why the wild birds swarmed it. (Who makes this stuff up?) The good folks at Snopes.com, who have been sorting Internet facts from actual facts since 1995, discovered the actual fact (Liles, 2024). Adam Samu took the photo on June 15, 2004, and he confirmed that the birds were not near the plane. It’s an optical illusion. The birds are starlings that “range in size from 19 to 23 centimetres” (7.5 to 9 inches). The birds simply happened to be in the foreground when he took the photo.

Many years ago, I had a Johnny Paul Jason in class. I’m sorry I didn’t take the time to write down the Internet facts he shared—always uttered with complete conviction. One in particular I remember. He said that dolphins can identify humans who were born underwater. We took some class time on that one to design an experiment that would test his claim. While that was a useful activity, I’m now ready for my next Johnny Paul Jason. “Is that an Internet fact or actual fact?” Thank you, Melina Gurung!



Dietz, M. (2024, March 18). Ignore this tax advice from TikTok. Lifehacker. https://lifehacker.com/money/ignore-this-tax-advice-from-tiktok

Liles, J. (2024, March 15). Pilot reacted emotionally when he realized why birds were flying alongside his airplane? Snopes. https://www.snopes.com//fact-check/pilot-emotional-birds-plane/


About the Author
Sue Frantz has taught psychology since 1992. She has served on several APA boards and committees, and was proud to serve the members of the Society for the Teaching of Psychology as their 2018 president. In 2013, she was the inaugural recipient of the APA award for Excellence in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning at a Two-Year College or Campus. She received in 2016 the highest award for the teaching of psychology--the Charles L. Brewer Distinguished Teaching of Psychology Award. She presents nationally and internationally on the topics of educational technology and the pedagogy of psychology. She is co-author with Doug Bernstein and Steve Chew of Teaching Psychology: A Step-by-Step Guide, 3rd ed. and is co-author with Charles Stangor on Introduction to Psychology, 4.0.