Even if this wasn’t an interesting article, I’d still have to talk about it just to bring a Terry Pratchett quote into the blog: “A lie can run round the world before the truth has got its boots on.”
(Yes, I know this originally came from Twain, but I like Pratchett more, so that’s who I’m citing.)
To anyone who has tried to follow an ongoing political or social event on twitter or through other social media sources, the lede to the article should say it all: “When people can learn what others think, the wisdom of crowds may veer towards ignorance.” As information hits a group, particularly a highly invested group, it proliferates through the group with little to no filter regardless of the factual content. Indeed, having observed the recent protests and Supreme Court election (and subsequent recount) in Wisconsin, I can speak to this directly. During the evening of the election, Twitter was constantly abuzz with tweets, re-tweets, and group-think. In fact, based on my personal and anecdotal experience, the more incorrect the information the faster it spread.
And here’s why: The lies are more interesting. Lies are either crafted to tell us exactly what we want to hear (i.e. #Kloppenburg up by 5000!!!) or exactly what we fear (i.e. #Walker declares martial law, sub-contracts police force to #Koch bros). Either way, we feel the need to share the information to others as either a celebratory or warning act. And once we share it, it continues to be shared throughout the community, drawing support from the reputation of those who spread the information and reinforcing the validity. And with the immediate mass-blast communication available through social networking, this process becomes nearly instantaneous. The crowd becomes larger, the information paths shorter, and the overall misinformation potential even greater.
Or, as Pratchett put it: “The intelligence of the creature known as a crowd is the square root of the number of people in it.”