One of President Trump’s favorite tweets regards the passage of his tax cut which he likes to say is the “biggest tax cut in history.” It wasn’t. Not close. Another favorite is that the border wall is about to be finished and that it’s impregnable. It isn’t, and it’s not. But he plunges on. The Fact Checker’s data base shows that in the first 1,055 days in office he’s made 15,413 false or misleading claims.
Why would he say something that is easily proven to be wrong?
Because fake news travels faster and deeper than the truth, and the president knows it. He depends on it. And we encourage him, and others, to continue, which is why there is a growing cry to “redesign our information ecosystem in the 21st century.” The call comes courtesy of a MIT study that examined the tweets of over 126,000 stories, by over three million users, and over 10 years.
The conclusion? Lies were 70 percent more likely to be retweeted than accurate stories. The lie will reach 1,500 people six times faster than a true story does. Remarkably, fake news, according to the study, typically develops a retweet chain 19 users long and it speeds forward 10 times faster than news that is accurate, and news whose number of users is half that of the lie. If it were a race of numbers and speed, the truth would lose every time.
The researchers discovered, to their dismay, that fake news is more compelling than real news. Fake news evokes feelings of disgust and surprise. Real news is associated with sadness and trust. And is a bore. In other words, fake news, or lies, arouse strong emotions and strong emotions spread further, faster, more broadly and more deeply than the truth.
The takeaway is that this is the way it is and no one, including the tech industry, experts or politicians, have a clue as to how this trend that rewards fake news can be reversed. When users are, simultaneously, readers, writers and publishers the lure of exaggeration is too tempting to pass by. When political polarization prevails, as it now does, it becomes a weapon of war, the embodiment of Friedrich Nietzsche’s “no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.”
As we plunge toward next week’s Iowa caucus and the starting gate of the presidential primaries, our preference for what is fake [and full of surprise and disgust], over what is true [but sad and dull], is as telling as it is fearful.
by Emerson Lynn