Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Viral is Not The Same as True

I try very hard not to share stories that seem too good to be true because I have a pretty good internal BS detector. Stories that too conveniently fit a political or cultural narrative are especially suspicious in my book, and those are usually the stories that go viral. The New York Times did a study of viral stories and found that many of them are either not true at all, or highly embellished. That story is here.

If you don't want to read the whole article, here's the gist...

Several recent stories rocketing around the web, picking up millions of views, turned out to be fake or embellished: a Twitter tale of a Thanksgiving feud on a plane, later described by the writer as a short story; a child’s letter to Santa that detailed an Amazon.com link in crayon, but was actually written by a grown-up comedian in 2011; and an essay on poverty that prompted $60,000 in donations until it was revealed by its author to be impressionistic rather than strictly factual. Their creators describe them essentially as online performance art, never intended to be taken as fact. But to the media outlets that published them, they represented the lightning-in-a-bottle brew of emotion and entertainment that attracts readers and brings in lucrative advertising dollars.

If you believed the stories, don't be too hard on yourself. You're probably just a good person who thinks "Why would somebody make that up?"

If you smelled a rat, it doesn't mean you're cynical. It means you're wise. After all, you were right.