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Jul 26 2012

How fake news can get created

It should not be a surprise that I like blogs. But it is true that bloggers are sometimes responsible for the generation of fake news that makes its way into the mainstream media. This happens when a poorly-sourced item on a blog gets picked up by other blogs and spreads, creating the impression that it is based on fact. These items tend to be those that are either intriguing, surprising, or address widely held beliefs or hot trends.

Ryan Holliday in Forbes magazine provided two recent examples of how this happened. Edward Jay Epstein exposed one article that appeared in the New York Times that said “A recent study found that 10 percent of people who work on Wall Street are ‘clinical psychopaths’ and that they exhibit an ‘unparalleled capacity for lying, fabrication, and manipulation.’” But while many people might suspect that to be true, no such study exists. Or rather there was a study that had some data on corporate professionals but whose authors did not make any claim along the lines reported in the news articles.

While bloggers are sometimes responsible for these false news items gaining wider currency, on the plus side, bloggers can also be a valuable source for corrections to false news.

One lesson from this is to pay close attention to the sourcing of the news. But not everyone has the time or the resources to track down and gain access to the original source. Another option is to treat such conclusions as tentative and wait a bit before passing judgment to allow for corrections and opposing views to surface.

5 comments

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  1. 1
    sambarge

    This tactic pre-dates blogs. I’d recommend “The Invention of Tradition” by Eric Hobsbawm and Terrence Ranger – unless you’re invested in the belief that Scottish tartans are actually clan based.

  2. 2
    unbound

    Yeah, I’m definitely waiting for a solid study to pop up. I’m sure it is much more than 10% that are clinical psychopaths…

  3. 3
    slc1

    Actually, IMHO, the term sociopaths would be more appropriate.

  4. 4
    Reginald Selkirk

    At least part of the fault lies with “journalists” who would report blog posts as factual without checking them out properly.
    And check this out: The mystery of James Holmes’ missing Facebook account
    The shooter apparently didn’t have a Facebook page, and this is considered a “mystery” worth reporting on.

  5. 5
    Mano Singham

    A 24-year old with no Facebook page? Well, there you go. His legal team has a cast-iron insanity defense.

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