How to Stop Misinformation Before It Gets Shared

In July of 1588, the Spanish armada’s hundred-plus ships and 26,000 men set sail for England, to overthrow the Protestant Queen Elizabeth I and restore Catholic rule. After two months at sea, the fleet fought English forces off the coast of France in a series of fierce battles. News of the outcome spread across Europe, and many learned that the armada had, as expected, won the day and crushed the English fleet. Catholics celebrated in the streets, and Protestants feared sanction as geopolitics whirred to life.
Many days later, the opposite news arrived: The English fleet had won a decisive victory and crippled the Spanish. The tattered remains of the great armada were long in retreat by the time millions of Europeans learned that they had been fooled by a viral rumor.WIRED OPINIONRenee DiResta (@noUpside) is an Ideas contributor for WIRED, writing about discourse and the internet. She studies narrative manipulation as the technical research manager at Stanford Internet Observatory. Tobias Rose-Stockwell (@TobiasRose) is a writer, designer, and technologist based in NYC. He's working on a book about outrage on the internet with Hachette, due out next year.It’s tempting to think that viral misinformation is a modern invention of social media and malicious actors. In fact, “fake news” is as old as news itself. For centuries, falsehoods have been shared widely as facts and stood uncorrected for months or years, even becoming accepted truth. Many of these stories were consequence-free, such as the widely believed report in 1569 of a Leicestershire woman who was “confirmed” to have given birth to a cat. Others led to tragedy and horror, such as viral rumors that the Black Plague was caused by Jews poisoning wells, which led to executions and violent pogroms throughout Europe.

Regardless of the era, rumors and falsehoods spread via two basic steps: discovery, then amplification of unverified knowledge. What’s different now is that today’s communication platforms have fundamentally transformed the way information flows, propelling viral rumors exponentially faster and farther than ever. Widespread belief in certain types of viral rumors poses a threat to institutions that we rely on, including democracy itself. An urgent question has emerged: How can we mitigate the kind of high-consequence misinformation that’s increasingly plaguing our communication ecosystem? Friction, we believe, is the answer.

Inferred from Kollin (2018)
A Modern History of Virality

Before the printing press, viral rumors spread through word-of-mouth chatter in the market square or pub. Still, businesspeople, rulers, and religious authorities required trustworthy knowledge, and they would spend enormous sums on timely, accurate news.

For those under their employ, the earliest proto-journalists, sourcing truth was a constant struggle. Newsmen added “friction” to the process of sharing knowledge, painstakingly validating stories through second- and third-hand sources before they published—lest they lose their reputation and sponsors.

Rumors are a type of information cascade — a proposition for belief of topical reference disseminated without official verification.