And so, to our year of bungles: the New Jersey waitress who received a homophobic comment on the receipt from a party she had served; comedian Kyle Kinane’s Twitter beef with Pace Salsa; the Chinese husband who sued his wife for birthing ugly children after he learned she’d had plastic surgery; Samsung paying Apple $1 billion in nickels…
…These all had one thing in common: They seemed too tidily packaged, too neat, “too good to check,” as they used to say, to actually be true. Any number of reporters or editors at any of the hundreds of sites that posted these Platonic ideals of shareability could’ve told you that they smelled, but in the ongoing decimation of the publishing industry, fact-checking has been outsourced to the readers. Not surprisingly—as we saw with the erroneous Reddit-spawned witch-hunt around the Boston Marathon bombing—readers are terrible at fact-checking. And this, as it happens, is good for business because it means more shares, more clicks.
This is not a glitch in the system. It is the system. Readers are gullible, the media is feckless, garbage is circulated around, and everyone goes to bed happy and fed. BuzzFeed’s Jonah Peretti admitted as much when explaining, that, when he’s hiring, he looks for “people who really understand how information is shared on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram and other emerging platforms, because that is in some cases as important as, you know, having traditional reporting talent.” Upworthy editorial director Sara Critchfield seconded the notion. “We reject the idea that the media elite or people who have been trained in a certain way somehow have the monopoly on editorial judgment.”
Luke O’Neil, Esquire. The Year We Broke The Internet.
Or as Ryan Grim, Huffington Post Washington Bureau Chief, told The New York Times, “If you throw something up without fact-checking it, and you’re the first one to put it up, and you get millions and millions of views, and later it’s proved false, you still got those views. That’s a problem. The incentives are all wrong.”
The FJP’s thoughts on fact checking? You can find those here.
The first surprise, then, is that the typical Twitter cascade is both rare and tiny. Ninety per cent of tweets are never retweeted, and most of the remainder are retweeted only by a person’s immediate followers, not by those at two or three removes.
In yesterday’s analog world the researcher’s curse was the difficulty measuring audience and message influence. In today’s online world, Harford writes, “the curse of being able to measure everything is that you get slapped in the face with” the reality that our messaging doesn’t really spread.
Is promoting through social media a waste of time then? Or has no one discovered the formula for viral-ability?
H/T: Financial Times