This Is Why Fake News Spreads Like Wildfire

The MIT team offered two hypotheses of its own that are similar to Tate’s analysis.

First, we yearn to tell a story that few have read and fake news seems to be more “novel” than real news. Falsehoods are often notably different from all the tweets that have appeared in a user’s timeline 60 days prior to their retweeting them, the team found.

Second, we’re moved by our passion over a story. Fake news evokes much more emotion than the average tweet. The researchers created a database of the words that Twitter users used to reply to 126,000 contested tweets, then analyzed it with a state-of-the-art sentiment-analysis tool. Fake tweets tended to elicit words associated with surprise and disgust, while accurate tweets summoned words associated with sadness and trust, they found.

Rebekah Tromble, a professor of political science at Leiden University in the Netherlands, told the Atlantic, “The key takeaway is really that content that arouses strong emotions spreads further, faster, more deeply and more broadly on Twitter. This particular finding is consistent with research in a number of different areas, including psychology and communication studies. It’s also relatively intuitive.”

A Biblical Admonish of Fake News

The book Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now, by Silicon Valley scientist and entrepreneur Jason Lanier, includes a section dealing with human nature.

Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said of the section:

“We all know that social media platforms amplify the voices of ‘trolls,’ those extraordinarily wounded psyches who seek out such venues to vent their inner demons with anger. Lanier’s argument, though, is not just that social media give a hearing to trolls but that these media are making us all, a little bit, into trolls. He uses a word that is less-than-evangelical-friendly, but that is synonymous with a boorish, mean-spirited jerk, and says that social media actually can make us into people like this.”

Denny Burk, Professor of Biblical Studies at Boyce College, likened many posts on social media to “drive-by bludgeons, mass-producing invective and criticism.” No wonder so many find tantalizing information in fake news. Burk called them an “assembly line of asinine, unaccountable commentary and critique.”

But he added a warning from Solomon who said they exemplify the ‘one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword” (Prov. 12:18).

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Bob Ditmer
Bob Ditmer has worked in Christian media for more than 20 years including positions with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries and Focus on the Family.