Fake news has become ubiquitous on social media. It is literally everywhere. On Facebook, you can’t scroll through your feed without seeing some sort of outrageous article that, when fact-checked, is entirely false. But then why is it so immensely popular?
Fake news is popular partially for the theory of confirmation bias. At least politically, when someone sees something that they want to be true about their opposing candidate, they will often believe it to be so without further question.
A New York Times article analyzes how a specific incident of fake news went viral in the case of the Austin, TX protests on Nov. 9. Eric Tucker, a 35-year-old co-founder of a marketing firm, had about 40 followers on Twitter. Tucker posted several pictures of charter buses nearby a protest, claiming that the protestors were paid to do so and had been bussed in. President-elect Trump fueled this fire by agreeing that the protests and riots were incited by the media.
Tucker’s post saw 16,000 shares on Twitter and 350,000 on Facebook. The fact of the matter was that those buses were completely unrelated to the protests. The buses were actually hired by Tableau Software, a company that was holding a conference that day which attracted over 13,000 people. After this was discovered, he claimed that he was too busy to properly fact-check his statements.
The post then moved its way to reddit, and from there to Facebook. And then it spread like absolute wildfire.
After election day, fake news articles severely outperformed mainstream news articles. The top 5 fake news stories involving the election were:
- Pope Francis Shocks World, Endorses Donald Trump for President, Releases Statement
- WikiLeaks CONFIRMS Hillary Sold Weapons to ISIS… Then Drops Another BOMBSHELL! Breaking News…
- IT’S OVER: Hillary’s ISIS Email Just Leaked & It’s Worse Than Anyone Could Have Imagined
- Just Read the Law: Hillary is Disqualified From Holding Any Federal Office
- FBI Agent Suspected In Hillary Email Leaks Found Dead in Apparent Murder-Suicide
These articles are 100 percent fake, but combined they were engaged on Facebook a total of 3,771,000 times. But the simple answer here is that when people see content that agrees with what they already believe, in combination with the fact that many people neglect to read past the headline, confirmation bias comes into play and many people will believe what they see without question.