Facebook hoaxes are about as old as Facebook itself, and the advent of social news came with one fantastic benefit — the ability for signals to transmit like wildfire across people interlinked socially on the internet.
Facebook hoaxes are a natural flipside to this new virality. In 2014, information not only spreads faster, but across a primed track. The folks with which you caucus on any social site like Facebook just happen to be the sort who will be likely to at least click (and possibly share) your Facebook posts.
Shares are great for media sites (like us), but in some situations, a viral story based on erroneous information moves rapidly and harmfully through the social media ecosystem.
After a long night calming down a frightened 11-year-old who’d read many scary Facebook posts about the “Talking Angela” hoax, we spoke to Matt Besterman, a TV news professional who has studied Internet misinformation.
Besterman was, alas, unable to get our kid to sleep — but he did shed some light on why a Facebook hoax like Talking Angela moves so far and fast when it reaches its target audience.
“People share things that confirm their own biases and worldviews, or that provoke an emotional response. They also like to believe that they’re privy to information about how the world ‘really’ works, which others may be blind to. It’s tempting to mistrust the mainstream media. But think about it for a second: if the Pope really said Adam and Eve were just a metaphor, or a storm was really going to bring 10 feet of snow, or scientists really discovered kumquats cure cancer — why would you only read about it on an obscure site with a name like RealAwesomeNews.com? Wouldn’t a cure for cancer be a front-page story in the New York Times?”
Someone buy this man a beer. Indeed, if a tale so exciting occurred in this age of the social newsroom, even mainstream sites (many of which are beginning to enter the social news reporting realm more seriously) would be carrying that story. If there’s not quickly a confirmation by a well-known news source, the story is likely bogus.
So why do we share, then? If our brains’ yellow light signals are flickering on the issue of whether a share is actually cromulent, why don’t Facebook users take ten seconds to check veracity?
“People think, ‘Well, I don’t know this is true, but I don’t know it’s untrue either. So I’ll share it just in case. It couldn’t hurt.’ But it does hurt. If people see a false story repeatedly shared, it will be harder to eradicate that false belief. Merely correcting the falsehood doesn’t work — studies show it makes people believe the falsehood more strongly.”
At this point, if Facebook hoaxes are a pet peeve of yours too, you’re probably nodding violently. And it is certainly the case that with a well-entrenched Facebook hoax or social media rumor, a sort of secondary, shaky “credibility” is imagined due to the traction a claim receives through shares.
Ultimately, it goes like this: spurious story heads to Facebook and its audience shares. The story then gets posted to blogs and news sites without major fact checking, leading users to find “supplemental evidence” to “validate” their belief. As such, a claim becomes nearly self-validating … until someone from the hoax busting contingent steps in to actually dig down. And with the “Talking Angela” hoax, the relatively youthful participants lacked the ability to recognize the story as very likely false — adding to how some of these social rumors self-perpetuate.
Usually by this point it’s too late. Facebook users are often disinterested in a correction, or feel badly for being taken. Some refuse to accept that the claim was incromulent at all.
And as with many things, it appears the best defense is a good offense — stopping Facebook hoaxes before they spread. One simple act, Matt explains, can help stop Facebook hoaxes before they “tip” and go viral”
“So what should you do? Cultivate a healthy skepticism. Before you click that ‘share’ button, take ten seconds and google the story. If it’s a hoax, chances are that will be one of the first few results. Don’t share information unless it’s been vetted by a reputable source. We all have to be our own fact-checkers.”
You can even share Facebook hoaxes — with a caveat that you’ve checked the story out, and an explanation of the facts. Heck, you can even add some worldview supporting information in lieu of the spurious claim while linking back to a good debunking.
Are there any Facebook hoaxes you see continually across your feed?