In a study published in March of 2018, Science Magazine noted that lies spread at a far faster rate than true information on social media channels.
“There is worldwide concern over false news and the possibility that it can influence political, economic, and social well-being. To understand how false news spreads, Vosoughi et al. used a data set of rumor cascades on Twitter from 2006 to 2017. About 126,000 rumors were spread by ∼3 million people. False news reached more people than the truth; the top 1% of false news cascades diffused to between 1000 and 100,000 people, whereas the truth rarely diffused to more than 1000 people. Falsehood also diffused faster than the truth. The degree of novelty and the emotional reactions of recipients may be responsible for the differences observed.”
This phenomenon is probably obvious when we consider it. This study provides a scientific basis which explains more about the media’s slipshod coverage of Donald Trump and his rhetoric for all those years.
As the study above found, there is a built-in propensity among people to share the outrageous, the attention-grabbing, the provocative. And if the information resonates with people’s personal beliefs or with their emotional makeup or social prejudices, it will ring true and be spread further. This is really how negative things go viral.
The resonance of hate, anger and outrage are easily used to play against the innate sense of justice that everyone has. Unethical news outlets, propaganda operations and social manipulators know this. It is their basic tool set.
The old new coverage principle of “if it bleeds it leads” still works to this day, but even more so. Trump and his enablers have always known this. His most outrageous and inflammatory utterances were not picked up and shared because media outlets thought they had some truth to them. They could not have cared less. They were picked up because they were lucrative. Trump’s insanity brought eyeballs to their pages and built up their ad revenue.
And their media clips being shared on social media helped create a virality in articles which boosted ad money even more, but also contributed to the factor of the self-fulfilling prophesy.
The bottom line is that outrage sells. It drives attention and in too many cases even physical action. Yes, this is a direct reference not only to January 6th but to Charlottesville, Portland, Minneapolis and other violent flash points.
The tendency of people to share bad news is still one of the most effective tools of the modern day propagandist. And we who try to do the opposite and put out the fires they cause are at least better prepared by knowing more about the mechanism.