Facebook Wants To Know Why You’re Sharing This Bogus Obamacare Story


There is no “Obamacare tax” added to your bill when you shop for outdoor gear. But you may not know that from reading Facebook.

In January 2013, that rumor began distributing on Facebook after a receipt in the hunting and fishing store Cabela’s listed a “medical excise taxes, ” supposedly levied as part of the Affordable Care Act. A photo of the invoice was reshared over and over. The sporting goods store later said the line about an Obamacare tax was as a result of software glitch.

facebook rumor

A group of researchers in the social network and Stanford University placed recently to understand Facebook rumors like this one. The team traced how rumors propagated in over 16, 1000 images, including the Cabela’s receipt, that were uploaded and reshared on Facebook in July and August of 2013.

The researchers looked at photos where someone had commented with a link to Snopes. com, a website that verifies and debunks stories shared around the Internet. Essentially, the team found a way to place the times when someone on Facebook says “Check out this insane story” and another person responds “Not so fast. ”

The researchers found that rumors are much more viral than normal photos uploaded to Facebook. Plus some of those 16, 000 pictures, including the “Obamacare tax” receipt, really blew up. Below is a picture in the research, showing a visual web of reshares of the receipt photograph in the summer of 2013:

facebook rumors

But the study also includes some heartening news: True rumors, as determined by Snopes. com, spread more widely than fake ones, garnering on average 163 reshares, compared to 108 reshares for fake rumors.

When comparing in order to Snopes. com’s collection of Internet rumors, Facebook and Stanford found one of the most rumor-prone topics included politics, criminal offense, medicine and food stories.

Another finding? Even without a “Dislike” button, shame is a effective force on Facebook. In the massive graph above, the team observed that many people deleted the Cabela’s receipt from their Timelines once they noticed it was debunked.

As soon as someone commented on a false rumor with a Snopes. com link, the particular poster was four times more likely to delete the photo, the researchers found. The rate actually was nearly the same for true stories — meaning people were prone to delete also accurate information once someone left a comment with Snopes. com, according to Adrien Friggeri, a computational social man of science at Facebook and co-author of the study.

“We speculated that, in many cases, this may be since the person was made aware that it was a known (and possibly old) rumor, ” Friggeri said. “People may want to share novel information using their friends, and links to Snopes can reveal it is not so story. ”

And even though all this false (and some true) details is being scrubbed away, rumors possess a way of persisting on the social network even after individual Facebook reshares are found out to be old or wrong. An additional meme the group followed was “money bags, ” in which a person states that a particular month has 5 Fridays, five Saturdays and 5 Sundays, and that that calendar event is rare. (In reality, it happens about once a year, according to Friggeri. )

facebook rumor

The graph below graphs photos that included the “money bags” rumor. They cropped up often throughout the year, during both months that will did have five Fridays, 5 Saturdays and five Sundays plus months that didn’t:

facebook rumor

Facebook had no comment about how it may utilize its findings to honing the particular algorithm that decides what articles people see. Friggeri noted that will Facebook only deletes posts for breaking Facebook’s rules, not for being inaccurate.

“People are welcome to share whatever they desire with their friends, ” he stated. “Even rumors that might happen to be fake. ”

It may be within Facebook’s best interest to ferret out false information. But also without the help of a Facebook algorithm, the data scientists observed that Facebook friends were keeping each other truthful. The propensity for people to correct each other with regards to rumors is something others possess noticed happening on Twitter too, at least anecdotally.

People correcting each other is also great for Facebook, since it helps make the social network a dependable source of information.

Of course , there’s a lot that the data scientists aren’t seeing. If the rumor is certainly copied and shared elsewhere on the internet outside of Facebook’s walled garden, or if it’s (gasp) passed by old-fashioned word of mouth, there’s no way to stop it from appearing later on Facebook.