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Why Fake News Spreads

by Miki Saxon

Fake news is on everybody’s mind these days.

Where does it come from?

How does it start?

Is it intentional? An accident? Honest error based on erroneous assumption?

A few days after Donald Trump was elected, 35-year-old Eric Tucker saw something suspicious: A cavalcade of large white buses stretched down main street near downtown Austin, Texas.

Tucker snapped a few photos and took to Twitter, posting the following message:

Tucker was wrong — a company called Tableau Software was actually holding a 13,000-person conference that day and had hired the buses.

OK, a wrong assumption by a social guy who had to tell his network.

But why didn’t the actual facts refute it when they were tweeted?

A new study published June 26 in the journal Nature looks into why fake posts like Tucker’s can go so viral.

Economists concluded that it comes down to two factors. First, each of us has limited attention. Second, at any given moment, we have access to a lot of information — arguably more than at any previous time in history. Together, that creates a scenario in which facts compete with falsehoods for finite mental space. Often, falsehoods win out.

Also, people consider the source of information more than the info itself. Trusted source = valid info.

The tweet was shared 350,000 times on Facebook and 16,000 and Trump added his two cents.

The corrected information was shared only 29 times.

Why didn’t Tucker tweet his network a correction when he it turned out to be false?

“I’m … a very busy businessman and I don’t have time to fact-check everything that I put out there, especially when I don’t think it’s going out there for wide consumption,”

In other words, he couldn’t be bothered.

Research and economists aside, Tucker provided the real key.

People aren’t bothered whether it’s true or not.

They just care that they get their 15 seconds of fame.

Image credit: Business Insider

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