Fake News Can Sometimes be Caused by a Telephone-Game Effect

Do you remember when you played the telephone game as a kid. You had 12 kids sitting around the table at a birthday party. The first kid whispered a sentence into the next kid’s ear, “The white rhinoceros ate the tulips at Mrs. Dilley’s general store.” The second kid than whispered the sentence into the next kid’s ear, “The right rhinoceros ate tulips at Mister Dooley’s general store.” By the time the twelfth kid spoke the sentence out loud to the the group it came out as, “The right isosceles triangle mastered the general’s stairs.” It turns out that human communication is not a copy-and-paste operation.

In this wonderful article on Vox,

As Yglesias writes:

But it isn’t “fake news” exactly. It’s based on a real news event that has simply been aggregated and reaggregated, framed in different ways for different audiences. At some point in the telephone chain, the story goes from accurate to inaccurate. And the method is the same as the fake news method — maximum outrage, maximum engagement, minimum concern for context and accuracy.



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