Internet fact or just rumor? Data shows unverified, false reports are shared more than truth


The Internet is a mixed bag of news -- both real and fake -- so there is no surprise that sometimes rumors become widely circulated. But problems arise when people begin to take the rumors for fact, and when misinformation and unverified claims overshadow any attempts to correct the false reports.

Craig Silver, a journalist and fellow at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University, developed a tool to track the dissemination of online rumors in a wide range of topics. The tool called Emergent revealed that many circulating rumors remain unverified, such as the claim that Libyan fighters captured 11 commercial jets when they won control of the Tripoli airport this summer.

Even though the missing Libyan jetliner story was questioned by the rumor-tracking website Snopes, the unverified claims were shared more than 140,000 times. However, since the site has classified the rumor as being false, the story has only been shared 735 times -- just a tiny portion compared to the hit the false story received.

The Internet is full of fake stories, some trending across multiple social media platforms. Recently, a woman claimed to have added a third breast implant, a story that received over 188,000 shares. The story turned out to be fake, after a three-breast prosthesis was found in the woman's luggage. The articles that reported the correction didn't even get one-third as many shares as the fake story.

While the story is silly, it proves that the Internet can make people believe and trust just about any story to be fact until proven otherwise.

The Internet provides instant news, which sometimes comes at the expense of accuracy, as seen in the Boston Marathon bombings. For more information on how Emergent tracks false rumors, take a look here.

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