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What causes Fake News to spread? People.

For all the panic, soul-searching and debate about the “fake news” phenomenon, there’s one basic truth I rarely see discussed.

Much of the blame for the spread of “fake news” can be placed squarely at the feet of the general public, far too few of whom actually apply critical thinking to the things they share on social media. And agreeing with the sentiment is no excuse for sharing something fake – that’s just cognitive bias at work:

But I agree with the sentiment, so it’s OK to share NO. NO. NO. That’s not good enough any more. Maybe that was OK back in the innocent noughties, but if you’re willing to reflexively share this without engaging your critical thinking, then I’ll bet that you’re willing to share more serious bullshit memes without thinking them through.

There’s a kind of arrogant paternalism in thinking that we can “save” people from “fake news”, without this central problem being addressed.

When A Trump Troll Is Outed

Talking of trolling, the New Yorker published an interesting piece by Adrian Chen, looking at what happened when a pro-Trump Reddit-dwelling troll was suddenly brought into the glare of publicity when his Gif went viral — and his true identity was established.

Suddenly, his behavior became more than pixels on a screen. It had consequences:

For HanAssholeSolo, though, his gif episode showed him what most of us instinctively know—that our online lives are intricately woven into our real ones, and that freedom of speech is not an excuse for a lack of empathy, even “behind a keyboard.” This was “an extreme wake up call,” he wrote in his apology. “To people who troll on the Internet for fun, consider your words and actions conveyed in your message and who it might upset or anger. Put yourself in their shoes before you post it.”

If there’s one thing that these trolls and the traditional media have had in common for a long time, it’s been the idea that virtual interactions were in some way inferior to physical one, that they counted less – if at all.

Both groups are slowly learning how very untrue that idea is.