Social Media Information Propagation

This morning I read the news story Irish Student Hoaxes World Media With Fake Quote. To summarize the article, an Irish student put a few quotes on Wikipedia on the page of a composer who had recently passed away to see how quickly people would use them. He made up the quotes and they were quickly on the editorial sheets.

The point is that we are all too quickly grabbing information without verifying. Although Wikipedia provides an invaluable service to the online community, it is all to easy to abuse. It seems as though writers have forgotten the scientific part of their career; fact checking. Although I am not a journalist, nor will I ever be, I think that sacrificing fact checking in order to make a deadline may be the wrong approach.

This is just my point from the perspective of Wikipedia. Let’s take this from another social media perspective like Twitter. For example, let’s say that someone wrote on Twitter:

RT @mattcutts Google will no longer honor the rel=”nofollow” aspect of linking

This could cause a pretty big uproar. There will be a massive amount of Tweeting both letting people know that Matt did not say this as well as people blindly retweeting this. Blog entries will show up saying why Google shouldn’t do that. Matt Cutts will likely have to write a blog entry saying he said no such thing. And I am sure all sorts of other hilarity will ensure. The speed of information in this day and age is so fast that misinformation can quickly wreak havoc. This is also a testament to the fact that people are generally more likely to spread negative information than positive information.

And to think all of this could have been avoided by a simple fact check by the first person who did an RT (after the person who made up the quote). And although it would be an interesting social experiment to test such a fact (as above), I think I’ll pass. Just keep in mind, fact checking is not something that should be left by the wayside.