NEWS

Craig Silverman, Regret the Error editor, on how rumours spread online

01/20/2015 05:20 EST | Updated 03/22/2015 05:59 EDT
Whether media are prey to hoaxes, spreading rumours, or simply getting their facts wrong, media critic Craig Silverman is there to point out the error of their ways.

Silverman, editor of the blog Regret the Error and founder of the fact-checking website Emergent, is in Vancouver this week to talk falsehoods and fake news as a visiting professor at UBC's Graduate School of Journalism.

"Unfortunately it's really difficult to dislodge misinformation when it takes hold in someone's mind," said Silverman.

He explained to On the Coast host Gloria Macarenko that rumours most easily spread online when they conform to pre-existing beliefs.

"We're very likely to believe that information instantly," he said."And then when we believe it we're much more likely to pass it on."

Silverman's research at the Tow Centre for Digital Journalism at Columbia University looks at how media organizations help spread those rumours and hoaxes, especially in an age of abundant information from unfamiliar online sources.

"The media today, we're watching social networks, we're watching other places, we're picking up things that are starting to trend there a little bit," said Silverman. "And often times we're not applying some evidentiary tests and verification to it."

He said media organizations can inadvertently reinforce rumours and hoaxes by reporting on them, even if they explicitly say the information is incorrect or unconfirmed.

Instead, journalists should stop to consider what they may be helping to propagate before jumping onto a trending story.

His research has shown that one of the best ways to correct false information is to explain it in a way that doesn't leave people feeling challenged or threatened.

He also emphasized the importance of issuing corrections.

"We tend to be more interested in the rumour when it's new or fresh," said Silverman. "When it comes to realizing it was mistaken or actually hey, it wasn't the way it was, we don't tend to have the motivation to go back to it."

Silverman's public lecture, The Hoax Economy: why our online world is awash in dubious rumours, hoaxes and fake news, will take place at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 21 at UBC Robson Square

To listen to the full interview, click on the audio labelled: Craig Silverman on how media help spread rumours and hoaxes

MORE:cbcNews