It Turns Out Fake News Isn’t Spread by Russia or Bots — People Are Just Lazy Idiots

(ANTIMEDIA Op-ed) — As non-Republicans continue their search for scapegoats to blame for Hillary Clinton’s presidential loss to Donald Trump, a major focus of Trump skepticism has been ‘fake news’ allegedly peddled by Russia to electioneer the 2016 vote. To their credit, 13 trolls thought to be working for the Russian government were recently uncovered in a massive investigation by Robert Mueller.

It’s anyone’s guess how influential 13 Reds with a $100,000 Facebook budget for America’s 6.8 billion-dollar election may have been, but perhaps the driver behind fake news is less nefarious than we’ve been led to believe: What if people are just gossiping, lazy, idiots? It appears that may be the case, at least according to a study published today in the journal Science about how fake news spreads on social media.

It turns out that fake news spreads in a similar way to high school gossip. Fictional news not seen anywhere else is like a secret waiting to get out around school. People jump to share it because it appears exclusive and people want to be the first to break the news to their friends. “Novel information is thought to be more valuable than redundant information,” study co-author Sinan Aral, a professor of management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said“People who spread novel information gain social status because they’re thought to be ‘in the know’ or to have inside information.”

Making matters worse, the study found that false news spreads more pervasively than legitimate information. In the study, researchers found that “[a]bout 126,000 rumors were spread by ∼3 million people. False news reached more people than the truth; the top 1% of false news cascades diffused to between 1000 and 100,000 people, whereas the truth rarely diffused to more than 1000 people. Falsehood also diffused faster than the truth.”

So basically, in a rush to spread gossip-like information to gain social credit, people spread fictional news because they’re also either too lazy to bother fact-checking it or too dumb to realize patently false information is, indeed, false (or both?).

Further, the study found that the other scapegoat for America’s fake news idiocracy — social media bots, whether homegrown or of Russian origin — actually appear to be a product of fake news itself. According to the researchers: “[c]ontrary to conventional wisdom, robots accelerated the spread of true and false news at the same rate, implying that false news spreads more than the truth because humans, not robots, are more likely to spread it.”

“So bots could not explain this massive difference in the diffusion of true and false news we’re finding in our data,” says co-author Sinan Aral, “it’s humans that are responsible.” [emphasis added]

Or perhaps irresponsible would be more accurate.

fake news

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  • Ian Perkins

    Who says that sharing a news item means you believe it? I often share items with friends precisely because I find them unbelievable, and thus of interest as propaganda.
    Has any research into this been done? I get the impression it has not; instead, the assumption is simply that shared equals believed.

  • Ziland Sirus

    Did it occur to the writer of this article that defining what “fake news” is might be a good place to start?

    To collectivists, fake news is anything that isn’t part of the accepted knowledge base, aka doctrine, gender dimorphism is fake news regardless of scientific evidence to the contrary, for instance. (disgust based ethics)

    To individualists fake news is anything that is demonstrably not so yet is pretending to be informative (sadly since most conspiracies cannot be demonstrated as false this excludes them, at least for the religiously inclined). To individualists, this whole article is “fake news” since the term being discussed wasn’t even defined and it is masked as news, making the content completely up to the eye of the beholder (which is quite typical of fake news organization strategies).

    Lastly there’s the ad hominem of calling anyone that ‘presumably’ is on the opposition for lazy and stupid, again this is undefined. Lazy compared to which group? Stupid compared to what standard? Depending on the group/standard chosen, 99% of the population on this planet is lazy and stupid, so again, without definition this is a vacuous ad hominem attempt (I’d call it an “Ivory tower fallacy”, if it wasn’t already taken and meant something completely different, so echo chamber syndrome will have to do).

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    • Those are excellent points, Zirland Sirius! The criteria that Science used was fact checking organizations, which are frequently wrong, and completely biased toward CIA propaganda. It is really hard to know without knowing the particulars. Trump / Russia conspiracy is accepted as truth, even though it has been proven to be absolutely false on all counts, and is still regurgitated by the propagandists and government at every turn. Hillary Clinton Russia collusion has been proven to be 100% true, and is totally ignored by the propagandists and government. Let’s just say that she raped my dog so that charges can be filed.