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Fake News Go Viral

Written By: Aboneel
26/01/2015 12:45
Contemporary Debate

In a bright sunny morning, you log in your facebook account. When homepage appears, you see a news link containing bereavement news of one of the top musicians in your country. You must be shocked and desperately click on that news URL. After clicking and skipping piles of ads; closing irritating pop-up windows; you have found this is fake news. Indeed, your head becomes an instant burner. Worry not, this is a common phenomenon and almost all facebook users go through this. Techno specialists term these type of incidents as “Conspiracy Theory”. According to this theory, people have the tendency to believe in such news without verify it. In the era of internet, these news go viral basically through social medias, e.g., facebook, twitter and so on.


Recently, MIT Technology Review published such interesting facts related conspiracy theory and its case incidents. In 2013, a report from the World Economic Forum suggested that online misinformation represents a significant risk to modern society. In one case, somebody impersonating the Russian Interior Minister tweeted that Syria’s President Basher al-Assad had been killed or injured. The tweet caused the price of crude oil to rise by over one dollar before traders discovered that the news was untrue.  In another case in 2012, 30,000 people fled from the Indian city of Bangalore after receiving text messages that they would be attacked. Clearly, the rapid spread of information can often have little to do with whether it is true or not. In Bangladesh, we observed such fake news closely linked with religious sentiments; went viral instantly without knowing true facts and created anarchic situations all over the country. Often , we see such news like “Angelina Jolie is Now Muslim”, “Prominent Wrestler The Undertaker Says 5 Times Salah Everyday” with images. Yet, it is not come from verified sources, we instantly like those stuffs and share it. We know that, in today’s world, it is very easy to alter images with the help of Photoshop. Seems, we believe and consume conspiracy news knowingly and deliberately.


Alessandro Bessi and associates at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Lucca, Italy, have done a very interesting research regarding this issue. The team began by studying over 270,000 posts created on 73 different Facebook pages. They classified these pages according to the kind of information they contained, whether conspiracy news or mainstream scientific news. They also counted the number of likes each post received, a total of almost 10 million, the number of shares, as well as the individuals who contributed.

Having divided up the posts, they found that around 60,000 involved mainstream scientific news and over 200,000 involved alternative conspiracy news. And while the scientific news received 2.5 million likes, the alternative news had over 6.5 million likes.

There is one significant difference, however. Readers of conspiracy news are more likely to both share and like a post than readers of mainstream science news. That appears to reflect a greater desire to spread conspiracy-based information than mainstream information.

Having studied the way readers consume the different types of posts, Bessi and co studied the readers themselves by dividing them into those who consume mostly conspiracy news and those who consume mainly mainstream scientific news. In particular, there were interested in how these readers react to news of the opposite polarity.

It turns out that readers focused on conspiracy news tend not to engage with mainstream sites but instead devote their energies towards the diffusion of conspiracies. By contrast, readers focused on scientific news are more likely to comment on conspiracy pages. “A possible explanation for such behavior is that the former want to diffuse what is neglected by mainstream thinking, whereas the latter aims at inhibiting the diffusion of conspiracy news,” say Bessi and co.

That’s an interesting insight into the way conspiracy theories perpetuate independently of evidence that may negate them. It agrees with other studies indicating that when people form opinions they tend towards accounts that are more consistent with their existing system of beliefs. In other words, if you have believed in conspiracy theories in the past, you are more likely to believe in them in the future. And if you regularly read mainstream science news, you are likely to continue in future.

Notwithstanding positive aspects, this issue is the vital negative aspects of social media. Prevention is indeed important, as we don’t have proper access to ensure its cure. We should think twice before clicking that news. We should check its authenticity. We should allow authentic news agencies in our timeline and block unaccredited news portals. Before sharing and clicking any news, we have to check the contents. Thanks to Government of People, Republic of Bangladesh, to formulate strong ICT Acts. It is we, who are the main catalyst to implement and apply this act in order to prevent such activities.

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About Aboneel

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  • Name: Saleh M Arman
  • From: Dhaka
  • Nationality: Bangladesh
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    Academics, Columnist and HR trainer.

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