Friday, August 31

Being Duped: From Political Outrage To Social Spoof

When my cousin shared the newest outrage from Senate challenger and Congressman Todd Akin earlier this week, I had to look twice. The Daily Currant ran a satirical news story with the headline Todd Akin Claims Breast Milk Cures Homosexuality. But the real story had nothing to do with Congressman Akin.

The real story has to do with how most people didn't look twice. People who already felt disgruntled by the politician's extreme pro life position were outraged and responded. Some ''quasi" media outlets even republished the entire story as if it was fact, forgetting that the site is satirical.

The corrections are starting to mount up — Rockford Register Star and The Celebrity Cafe among them. Others were so embarrassed that they have deleted the posts, leading search engines to empty pages. A few, for whatever reason, have let it stand as fact. And Twitter, no surprise, took the lead in spreading the satire as real news, followed by forums on the opposite extreme of ideology.

News spreads fast on the Internet. Faux news spreads even faster.

While it's no surprise that the original outrage left people susceptible to believe anything, it also reinforces how social media is a mixed blessing. Few people check sources before sharing, especially when the story affirms what they want to believe. Not everything on the net is grounded in truth.

The story that was buried in the wake of the satire might be more of a surprise. Rep. Akin is leading in some polls and the race itself is still tightly contested across most polls. The reasons are simple. His opponent is weak and the majority of Missourians are ready to forgive the misstatement in order to see her go.

The fact that he is still very much a viable candidate demonstrates something else about social media. While numbers and news stories, back links, and opinions across the whole of the Web matter, they are not always aligned with the realities of a geographical region. Missouri knows the 6-year story better.

Of course, that has nothing to do with my opinion of what Rep. Todd Akin had said. There is a better sense of that in my original piece. I thought it was a travesty, but maybe not the campaign killer that many people expected it would be. His rebound suggests the Missouri race is very much up for grabs.
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