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THE “SOFT POWER” OF THE (MIS)INFORMATION VIRUS

Updated: Apr 25, 2023

This week, the British government published a strategic document containing its updated defense and foreign policy strategies. It places (mis)information management and ensuring “reliable and credible information” as one of the future fundamental levers of its “soft power” in the international arena.


To this end, the British government will allocate an additional 20 million pounds to the BBC over the next two years to support their program BBC World News as a “trustworthy and reliable” source of information in the international arena. More of the real stuff, then.


But what is interesting about misinformation is not its plenitude, but its viral character. Years ago, MTI had already carried out studies concluding that misinformation (“fake news”) spreads ten times faster than official journalistic stories. On average, the top 1% of false information was “spread” across 1,000 to 100,000 people, while the truth rarely “infected” over 1,000 people. Tweets containing lies had a 70% greater chance of being shared or retweeted than posts containing only the truth. Tweets with mistruths reached a crowd of 1,500 people six times faster than posts with true information.


It turned out that tweets with false information bore a higher level of novelty: they contained information that Twitter users had not seen before and consequently triggered stronger emotional reactions in them. This winning combination of novelty and emotional charge, therefore, creates a wave that thrusts posts with false information further, faster, and stronger. More of the new and unusual stuff, then. More “news” in the “news”, then.


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