Fake Facts on Twitter
Back during the debate for HR 1, I was amazed at how easily conservatives were willing to accept and repeat lies about spending in the stimulus package, even after those provisions had been debunked as fabrications. The $30 million for the salt marsh mouse is a perfect example, and Kagro X documented well over a dozen congressmen repeating the lie.
To test the limits of this phenomenon, I started a parody Twitter account last Thursday, which I called "InTheStimulus", where all the tweets took the format "InTheStimulus is $x million for ______". I went through the followers of Republican Twitter feeds and in turn followed them, all the way up to the limit of 2000. From people following me back, I was able to get 500 followers in less than a day, and 1000 by Sunday morning.
You can read through all the retweets and responses by looking at the Twitter search for "InTheStimulus". For the most part, my first couple days of posts were believable, but unsourced lies:
- $3 million for replacement tires for 1992-1995 Geo Metros.
- $750,000 for an underground tunnel connecting a middle school and high school in North Carolina.
- $4.7 million for a program supplying public television to K-8 classrooms.
- $2.3 million for a museum dedicated to the electric bass guitar.
The Twitter InTheStimulus site appears to have been taken down.
There a several things going on here. First is confirmation bias, which is the tendency of people to believe things that reinforce their prior beliefs. But the second is the limited bandwidth of Twitter—140-character messages—that makes it very difficult to authenticate anything. Twitter is an ideal medium to inject fake facts into society for precisely this reason.
EDITED TO ADD (5/14): False Twitter rumors about Swine Flu.
Posted on April 24, 2009 at 6:29 AM • 53 Comments