Too often news organizations play a major role in propagating hoaxes, false claims, questionable rumors, and dubious viral content, thereby polluting the digital information stream. Indeed, some so-called viral content doesn’t become truly viral until news websites choose to highlight it. In jumping on false claims and publishing it alongside hedging language, such as “reportedly” or “claiming,” news organizations provide falsities signiﬁcant exposure while also imbuing the content with credibility. This is at odds with journalism’s essence as “a discipline of veriﬁcation” and its role as a trusted provider of information to society.
News websites dedicate far more time and resources to propagating questionable and often false claims than they do working to verify and/or debunk viral content and online rumors. Rather than acting as a source of accurate information, online media frequently promote misinformation in an attempt to drive traﬃc and social engagement.
News organizations are inconsistent at best at following up on the rumors and claims they oﬀer initial coverage. This is likely connected to the fact that they pass them on without adding reporting or value. With such little eﬀort put into the initial rewrite of a rumor, there is little thought or incentive to follow up. The potential for traﬃc is also greatest when a false claim is new. So, journalists jump fast, and frequently, to capture traﬃc.