Tag Archives: metrics

Facebook “like inflation” exaggerates the scope of Internet hoaxes

Don't Trust This NumberOver 70 thousand people shared a story about a totally fake Sarah Palin quote! Over 5 million people shared a hoax story that Macaulay Culkin had died!  It gets depressing hearing how many people get fooled by these hoaxes, doesn’t it?

The problem is, the numbers in those reports are wrong! Often, wildly wrong. They’re exaggerations caused by the confusing way that Facebook reports engagement.

Now, the underlying problem is real – social media hoaxes and rumors are bigger than ever. As a result debunking these things has become a popular pastime, well beyond the circle of organized skepticism.

Even the Washington Post runs a regular feature on Friday called What was fake on the internet this week. The science fiction site IO9 regularly debunks fake images that are making the rounds. And of course there are the old standards such as Snopes and Museum of Hoaxes, still in the business of debunking this stuff.

Read on to see how many of these well-meaning debunkers are being misled by Facebook into over-reporting the problem.

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Why should skeptics edit Wikipedia? Traffic, traffic, traffic!

A recurring topic on this blog and in my public talks is getting skeptics involved in editing Wikipedia. I’ve been writing about it here and talking about it at events like Skepticamp and Skeptics in the Pub for almost 3 years. I believe it to be very important.

Wikipedia logo

Wikipedia - The Free Encyclopedia

But it is sometimes difficult to impress people with the importance. I often approach this by talking about things like SEO and SERP placement. But to many non-webmasters these are confusing concepts. It can be hard to visualize how they translate into readers.

Last weekend at The Amazing Meeting (TAM9) Susan Gerbic-Forsyth gave a Sunday paper presentation on the topic of Wikipedia. Susan has taken up the gauntlet I threw down in a big way, for which I thank her. She’s contributed a ton of photos she’s taken at skeptic events, which are a fantastic addition to any article. She’s also started her own blog where she shares what articles she’s been working on, tips on formatting and so on. It’s good stuff, check it out.

During TAM9, Susan and I were talking about how it is sometimes difficult to convince skeptics that Wikipedia is worth the effort. Skeptics, due to their nature, are painfully aware of the many limitations of Wikipedia. Some express doubts that these can be overcome, and have written off the site. Others who have actually tried to edit express frustration in dealing with other editors and the culture of Wikipedia (a topic for another time).

But as we were talking, it occurred to me there is a very simple way to show exactly how important Wikipedia is, without using any obscure terminology. And that’s what this post is about. By the end of it, it should be crystal clear why skeptics need to edit Wikipedia.

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