The Speed At Which Wrong Information Flows

from the unfortunate dept

If you’ve been following the news of the protests in Iran over the past few days, you’ve no doubt heard about the story of Neda Soltani, who was shot and killed on video, and has become, as some news reports have noted, “the face of Iran’s struggle.” Not to get into the politics of it all, what is quite fascinating is the news that the photo that many individuals and news sources are using for Soltani isn’t just of a different Neda Soltani, but it’s due to confusion over how Facebook works (found via Mathew Ingram).

Basically, a woman named Amy Beam, who was interested in the Neda Soltani in the video contacted other Neda Soltani’s found on Facebook, and one communicated back with her, and eventually they “friended” each other on Facebook. Soon after, the “living” Neda Soltani posted a translation of an article about the killed Neda Soltani on Amy’s Facebook “wall.” However, the way this works, is that along with the post on the wall, it includes the poster’s own avatar/profile photo — in this case the living Neda Soltani. From that, others who were friends of Amy saw the name Neda Soltani, the story about the killed woman, and the photo of the living woman — and assumed they were all the same woman… and from there the photo started spreading like wildfire, including websites, TV, banners and elsewhere. And the really scary part is that the living Neda Soltani is now quite afraid for her life, since she’s suddenly become “the face of the face of the struggle in Iran” despite not being the woman who was shot.

Certainly, bad information flows at incredible speed in this day and age, but the series of events and confusion that led to this result is quite fascinating, if a bit scary (especially for the living Neda Soltani). There’s an effort under way to alert everyone using the wrong photo to change their images, but you have to wonder how effective that will be.

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Comments on “The Speed At Which Wrong Information Flows”

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Chronno S. Trigger (profile) says:

Re: fact-checkers'r'not-us

Oddly enough, there was a guy at Sheetz today giving out free newspapers trying to sell subscriptions. That was one of the arguments that he used: newspapers are more accurate than online. I laughed my ass off for hours. He also used the arguments: online is stealing our reports (kinda eliminates the accuracy argument), and hundreds of thousands of jobs are lost. I’ll probably still be laughing about that tomorrow (the supposedly caused by the Internet part, not the job loss part).

fogbugzd says:

Convenient information flows faster than inconvenient

Information that is “convenient” flows much faster than inconvenient information. Convenient information is anything that tends to support your world view and/or financial interests. Inconvenient information doesn’t support these biases.

Everyone is quite eager to embrace convenient information, and therefore it flows quickly. They will repost it, tell their friends, and remember it for later reference. In the process any bits of inconvenient information that may be part of the story tend to get trimmed away or minimized.

Inaccurate information tends to be more convenient than accurate information. The real world rarely supports our preconceived notions 100%, so accurate data almost always comes with at least a little bit of inconvenience that must be trimmed away. This is why we see misinformation travel much faster than conventient information in most cases.

Anonymous12 says:

At least one news organization, FOX News (“Get your Red Meat Here” patent pending) had a different picture up today, and it appeared to be different from the previous picture, so it looks like the blogger is correct. Also I don’t think the deceased woman’s fiance would notice the image used online for a story right away.
He wouldn’t be told about it unless he asked. An interview doesn’t take place during the editing stage. Duh!

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