Miscalibrated Internet Receptor Stalks

Yesterday gave an excellent opportunity to test the full extent of Samuel Clemens's claim that "A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes."

Viral news chart tracks shares of news articles on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ for their first 24 hours of 'publication.' Yesterday a smattering of websites, led by the Daily Mail, decided to badly report on the pseudoscientific statements of an individual, while wrongly identifying him as staff at a university he has not worked at in almost a decade. Two websites (and maybe more, but I haven't found them) tried to call their bluff: io9, and The Raw Story.

In terms of social network impact, how well did the debunkery do in comparison to the schlock journalism?


By a margin of 34:1, schlock journalism won. And I am skewing the results here: I'm not making a one-to-one comparison (because then schlock wins more) nor am I including the multiple other websites which ran a Daily Mail-style article rather than one with some semblance of science reporting responsibility (because then schlock wins even more).

This is one of the terrifying things about media's responsibility in the Information Age. A news article shared 41,000 times in a day should have some form of fact-checking. A "science" news article shared that many times in a day on a pseudoscientific topic is a stark reminder that that particular member of the media has decided to drop all of its responsibility in accurately informing the public.


Edit on the 4th of December: two more websites, the Guardian (!) and Skepticblog, now have articles debunking the Daily Mail article; we'll see how they do in viral exposure.

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