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22 april 2018, a convenient non-truth

Sunday, April 22nd, 2018

A favourite adage I often drop into conversation is that a lie can travel halfway round the world before the truth gets its boots on. Now comes proof, with an mit study of several gazillion tweets, showing conclusively that false stories were retweeted faster, and by more people, than true ones. Fake political news is the most likely to go viral. This is not new (the economist suggests the french revolution was sparked by a false rumour being gossiped), but is certainly supercharged when social-media can literally send a story to billions in moments. The reason, the study concludes, is pretty straightforward: information is not exciting. What encourages effort, including passing things on, is the novel, the exciting, the unusual, the things that stir emotion. Incredibly, no-one at all died in a plane crash in 2017, making it the safest year ever. However, somehow that didn't find its way on to any front pages, just like the real story that 137, 000 people came out of extreme poverty yesterday. What most people take from this is the retreat into tribalism it enables, as we all surround ourselves with the news and views we want to hear and don't just ignore everything to the contrary, but increasingly don't even see it. Taking this to the next level, the messenger itself becomes the arbiter of truth, the most obvious example being to some trump supporters what he says is right because he said it. The other point though is that for those who see the world in a dark state, there is perhaps a lot of good news out there we're just not seeing and celebrating (with thanks to steve pinker) and the lack of that may itself be helping create the darkening environment. Hope springs eternal.