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Fake News Travels Faster than Real News Because it is Shocking, and it is Shock Value that We Crave


A new study reports that “fake news” travels six times as fast as true items, by studying almost all of hundreds of thousands of Twitter posts over a period of years.   The study was unveiled yesterday in the NYT and by today, had been reviewed by New Scientist. The reason for the speed of lies?  They seemed to cause shock or consternation, or even surprise, which caused human viewers of the items to re-post them more often and more quickly.  Contrary to popular impressions, bots had little or no hand in the speed of fake news– all of the retweeting was done by humans, who often were so surprised by the items that they responded by asking, “is this true?”

The characteristics of fake news are shocking, surprising, and confusing because they seem to stand out as different from true news items– different enough for people to take notice.  That is the characteristic of fake news that is inherent in its popularity and menace: its shock value.  We are shocked, shocked to hear that Hope Hicks is telling everyone she’s going to have Don’s baby– but we almost believe it.

(illustration courtesy of and pixel2013)

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