How Fake News Spreads Like a Virus on Twitter (Facebook, too)

Fake News is a type of yellow journalism or propaganda that consists of deliberate misinformation or hoaxes spread via traditional print and broadcast news media or online social media (Wikipedia).

Fake news is very easy to spread around the world now that billions of people have access to online social networks, TV, and other media.  Suppose you have a thousand followers on Twitter, and you retweet an opinion, story, or article you’ve read somewhere.  So a thousand people receive your tweet, but only 10% of them like it, and go to the effort of retweeting to their followers.  So 100 followers of yours tweets it on to their followers which could number in the thousands, and if a percentage of them tweet it on, we are most likely in the hundreds of thousands.

But suppose you are Erik Trump, son of the President, and he retweets a story on the NFL (as he did).  He has 1.49 million followers.  He retweeted a Breitbart story that claimed that Americans agree with Trump on National Anthem and NFL Protests.  In very little time, his retweet exploded on Twitter, as seen in the graphic below.

The graphic was produced by Hoaxy, Indiana University.  With Hoaxy, we can visualize the spread of claims and fact-checking (if there is any).

                                       How one Twitter user can spread misinformation like the way a virus spreads.

Spreading misinformation.  The mainstream media believes it doesn’t spread misinformation, but it does.  Tonight on the ABC national news, David Muir and associates showed a clip of the President saying that the NFL owners are afraid of their players.  And then it added clips of three people in different locations burning their NFL T-shirt.  Using these images, ABC does parlay misinformation, and in the end influences its viewers, who believe it is not spreading fake news.  But it is guilty, perhaps not as much as Brietbart News, but in their rush for getting ratings, they will use a story that is somewhat sensational.  Their fact-checking is suspect.

So, when we use Hoaxy to look at the claim that NFL owners are afraid of their players, we get this graphic. Notice that this claim has been fact-checked by many people and groups.  The claim is not true, but notice how the claim spreads and will continue to spread.

                                                   Claims and Fact-Checks on are “NFL Owners are afraid of their players.”

This is but a tip of the iceberg.  With news outlets such as Brietbart News, claims spread like wild-fire, and because they are spread and repeated, for many people, these claims are true, and even if they are refuted with facts, the opinions of the hosts does not change.

More on this in the coming days.

About Jack Hassard

Jack Hassard is a writer, a former high school teacher, and Professor Emeritus of Science Education, Georgia State University