It only takes a few seconds to fire off information on the Internet that can be seen (and heard — if one is into transmitting information via audio and/or video file) by millions within a few minutes. The misunderstanding, misinterpretation, and/or the willful misrepresentation of a trending topic, such as that of “Chris Hansen arrested for child molestation,” can be accessed by millions through countless browsers, YouTube videos, on social networking sites, and various other electronic media outlets at the press of a few buttons and a “send” command.
In this instance, that seems to be what has happened. Chris Hansen, the anchor for NBC’s “Dateline: To Catch A Predator” series, has not been arrested, according to Zap2It, despite many Internet rumors and reports that claim the opposite. However, a man with the same last name was — in Iowa, and for child molestation-like charges: sexual misconduct with minors.
From one hour to the next, Google search topics (or Twitter or Yahoo! or any other trending topics list) can completely restructure themselves, seeing terms enter and disappear from the Google Trends list in the space of 60 minutes. A hot topic can enter the trending list at the top position simply on the massive interest and generated traffic within a few minutes. Something as incredibly shocking as Chris Hansen being arrested for child molestation — the very activity that his “Dateline: To Catch A Predator” news series captures on film as news — would quickly become an in-demand search topic.
It did. On Friday, Sept. 3, the search term “Chris Hansen arrested for child molestation” was #1 in the hour after the noon demarcation was passed in the Eastern time zone. It remained the number-one search topic going into the next hour as well…
But Chris Hansen was not arrested for child molestation. Still, the seed of rumor (or a hoax) has been planted. And for those given to rumor-mongering, unsubstantiated gossiping, facilitating or creating hoaxes, and cursorily ingesting and regurgitating material without regard to content veracity, the topic alone becomes the purveyor of defamation.
James William Hansen, a 28-year-old Cedar Rapids, Iowa, man, was arrested by Benton County authorities Wednesday for allegedly having inappropriate contact with three underage males in a park in Vinton, Iowa, on Friday, Aug. 6. According to KCRG in Cedar Rapids, Sheriff Randall Forsyth said that Hansen faced two counts of sexual abuse in the second-degree, two counts of lascivious acts with a child, and one count of assault with intent to commit sexual abuse.
But James Willaim Hansen is not Chris Hansen. He isn’t even Chris Hansen under an assumed name or alias.
Somewhere, somewhen, somehow, James William Hansen became Chris Hansen of “Dateline: To Catch A Predator,” at least on the Internet, that is. Perhaps it became thus because of a misinterpretation of the story, a blogger or reporter relaying the news and placing the name “Chris” in place of “James.” Or perhaps it could have been someone passing along the information by using just the last name, with the next link in the information chain assuming that the person arrested for child molestation was Chris Hansen of “Dateline.” Or it may have been one of those anonymous hoax-masters or rumor-generators who purposely misrepresent celebrities to start Internet hoaxes and rumors, such as the non-ending train of celebrity death hoaxes.
Regardless, Chris Hansen is being derogated by the mere negative association of a child molestation arrest, despite it not having the slightest approximation of veracity. Instead of interrogated, alleged and potential child molesters on camera for “To Catch A Predator,” some will now falsely associate his name with child predation, doing the veteran reporter an immeasurable disservice.
Because, in the end, there exists a polar difference between being arrested for child molestation and facilitating the capture of those who engage in the heinous activity. And for all those who knowingly and unknowingly disseminate the rumor (or hoax) that Chris Hansen was arrested for child molestation, other users of the Internet must make strides to provide the policing mechanism to refute and disprove same said false allegations and attempt to set matters aright.
Trusted newsmen like Chris Hansen should not be allowed to fall prey to false allegations or erroneous information propagation, whether targeted intentionally or unintentionally, if one has the ability to rectify the error. Those who prey on minors for sexual purposes do not deserve the same consideration, with respect to most social standards. Nor should the two men, their characters, and their images be conflated, no matter how similar their names.
Update: As this article goes to post, some, like The Post Chronicle, are reporting that the rumor began with a false entry on Wikipedia. According to the article, the entry on Wikipedia stated: “Chris Hansen was arrested for Child Molestation on September 3, 2010. He was also the #1 searched term on Google following the arrest as the arrest of him shocked the world.” The Post Chronicle refused to name the perpetrator, noting that the false information was planted to drive information to the poster’s website and that they did not want to “aid liars.”
Wikipedia is a democratically constructed source of information, where member users can add information at any time.
The entry has been removed.