How Misinformation Emerges and Spreads

This is an illuminating story from the Austin American-Statesman about the spread of misinformation. The context is whether President Trump would lose his pension, travel stipend, and other benefits if convicted in the Senate trial. The false information here is that he would lose these benefits. The most interesting part of the story is the rationale from the person who spread the wrong information — see these comments:

The source of the screenshot in the posts is a Jan. 8 tweet from Ben Costiloe, a 57-year-old man who lives in Texas. He told PolitiFact that he copied the text from something he saw on Facebook.

“I looked at it, and they didn’t have any followers,” said Costiloe, whose own Twitter following has grown more than tenfold since publishing the post. “I thought about it and said, ‘Well, this isn’t completely true, but it could be true in a perfect world.’ So I threw it out there.”

“It could be true in a perfect world.” Think about that.

Here’s some more detail on how much this misinformation spread:

With only nine days until Inauguration Day, the Democrats’ move to impeach Trump is unlikely to result in his removal from office. But a viral social media post says it could have lasting effects on his future in public life.

The post, published by the liberal Facebook page The Other 98% on Jan. 9, outlined four potential consequences for Trump if the House votes to impeach him for a second time:

“For those wondering if it’s worth impeaching him this time, it means he:

Loses his 200k+ pension for the rest of his life

Loses his 1 million dollar/year travel allowance

Loses lifetime full Secret Service detail

Loses his ability to run in 2024.”

Celebrities like comedian Jim Gaffigan and advocacy organizations like the March for Science have shared the post to millions of followers.

The story goes on to correct the wrong information that was spread — because “it would be true in a perfect world” — including by talking to experts on these issues, such as Brian Kalt.


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