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Lies, Damn Lies, and Viral Content: Examining the Role of News Websites

February 18, 2015 | By Research Team—DCN

“Going Viral” is a phrase often bandied about in the world of media today. Rarely is it construed as a bad thing. However, in a paper funded by The Tow Foundation and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Craig Sliverman examines the role of news websites in filtering (or failing to filter) erroneous information that spreads like wildfire in social media. In his paper “Lies, Damn Lies, and Viral Content How News Websites Spread (And Debunk) Online Rumors, Unverified Claims, and Misinformation,” Silverman writes:

News organizations are meant to play a critical role in the dissemination of quality, accurate information in society. This has become more challenging with the onslaught of hoaxes, misinformation, and other forms of inaccurate content that flow constantly over digital platforms.

Journalists today have an imperative—and an opportunity—to sift through the mass of content being created and shared in order to separate true from false, and to help the truth to spread.

Unfortunately, as this paper details, that isn’t the current reality of how news organizations cover unverified claims, online rumors, and viral content. Lies spread much farther than the truth, and news organizations play a powerful role in making this happen.

…There are also widely used practices in online news that are misleading and confusing to the public. These practices reflect short-term thinking that ultimately fails to deliver the full value of a piece of emerging news.

He goes on to offer key findings about common bad practices as well as exploring in depth many examples of viral content and the role that the news media played in spreading the “bad news.”

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