Online misinformation, fake news, false news, hoaxes, you name it, has been blamed for almost everything bad happening in the last years, from the success of Trump to Brexit, from the election of Bolsonaro to the (relative) spread of the anti-vax movement. The scientific consensus on the prominence and on the effect of online misinformation, however, is, at best, mixed.Continue reading “Morgue employee cremated by mistake while taking a nap”
There is a joke among pilots—of course, I never heard any pilot actually saying the joke, but I found it online in plenty of commentaries about automation—according to which the best aeroplane crew is composed by a computer, a pilot, and a dog. The computer flies the plane. The pilot feeds the dog. The dog’s task is to bite the pilot whenever they try to interfere with the computer’s work. In other words: let the machine do the job for you.
Next month, I will give two talks – or two versions of the same talk – on “Cognitive attraction and online misinformation”. One will be in Den Bosch at the Jheronimus Academy of Data Science (where I hope to convince data scientists that cultural evolution and cognitive anthropology can be useful to understand online diffusion dynamics) and one, shortly after, at a Conference on Cultural Evolution organised by The Cognition, Behavior & Evolution Network at the University of Antwerp (where I will do the opposite, hoping to convince cultural evolutionists that studying online diffusion dynamics can be useful for us).
If you read this blog, or if you follow my activity on Twitter, you may know that I have a fairly relaxed attitude towards the “dangers” of the digital world. The great majority of supposed perils correspond more or less to what happens in our offline lives, and – in our offline lives too – we tend to be vulnerable to external influences only up to a certain point (here an excellent paper argumenting that we are not as gullible as we think – in fact, as we think others are). I wrote about the digital spread of fake news mirroring the traditional spread of rumours (according to BuzzFeed, the fake news that generated more engagement on Facebook in 2017 is titled “Babysitter transported to hospital after inserting a baby in her vagina”), about the inconsistencies of the “post-truth” narrative, or about the exaggeration of the digital echo-chambers danger (I would probably write differently today these two, rather old, posts).
Few thoughts on an important paper that just appeared in Science, The spread of true and false news online. The paper received (and will receive) justified attention: it is massive (“~126,000 rumor cascades spread by ~3 million people more than 4.5 million times” in a long temporal window – from 2006 to 2017), it includes several detailed analyses (the authors did not only check basic metrics such as speed and size of diffusion, but they measured things like structural virality; the proportion of political versus non-political news; the role of bots; they run a sentiment analysis of the tweets, etc.), and it has a straightforward (and I guess welcome to many) take-home message: “fake” news are more successfull than “true” news in social media, at least in Twitter (*).