Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Fake News, True Believers (Facebook Demographics)

Fake new sites such as the "National Report" are all the rage.

There have been a rash of news stories spreading virally on Facebook and other Social Media sites (read:  Facebook) that seem bizarre and outrageous.   And of course, they are untrue.

Some are fake news from fake news sites, which spread scurrilous rumors and made up stories. 

One of these is the Daily Current, which publishes nonsense articles which are implausible, to say the least.   But, like clockwork, people link them on Facebook and then Snopes has to "debunk" yet another Internet legend.  Other similar fake news sites include The National Report,, The Daily Leak, the misleadingly named "" and the like.

Viral videos are also another source of fake news.   Sometimes people prepare these videos with the best of intentions, but end up backfiring.  Others are just advertisements.   This recent video about a brave boy in Syria was passed around with people commenting about the fate of children in that war.  But it turned out the video was fake.   Children are still dying in Syria.   Now this fake video gives people an excuse not to care.

Others are just scams - trying to get you to click on a link for a free gift card or a free car or whatever.

Why is it in this "information age" so much of the information out there is false - often intentionally so?   And why is it that people will believe parody websites as reporting the real news?

The answer is, of course, that people are predisposed to believe what they want to believe.   The far-right nutjob will believe that "Welfare Queens" are getting free cars, simply because that fits their existing world-view.   The left-wing nutjob will believe that Republicans are going to put them all in death camps.  Same bullshit, different day.

But moreover, the fact these stories have great currency on Social Media illustrates how Social Media (i.e., Facebook) has become this hysterical old woman as of late.

And if you read the demographics of Facebook users, you can see this is literally true.  The site has been predominantly women (55%) even though the growth rate of male users has been twice that of women.  Growth rate among teenagers and young adults has been negative in recent years, which does not bode well for the website.  While the desirable 18-24 demographic remains 30% of Facebook users, the number of users in this category has actually declined over 7% since 2011 - for the 13-17 demographic, the number of users has dropped an alarming 25%.  High school and college users are off by more than a whopping 50%.

Worse yet, the greatest growth area (up a whopping 80%) has been the over-55 crowd.   Yes, Grandma has discovered Facebook, and that does not bode well for the hipness factor (unless you are talking about her hip replacement surgery).   For both teens and oldsters, however, more identify themselves as "conservative" than "liberal".   Very interesting trending!

(Note:  Some have argued that the teens are not "leaving" but growing up and are now classified as young adults.   But the young adult demographic is dropping as well, and no new teens are taking the place of the former ones.   The most relevant comment about these stats I have heard is "teens don't want to socially network with their parents" - which I think is true.  It is creepy when your Mom "likes" one of your Facebook posts.)

This does not bode well for Facebook, of course.  Advertisers covet the age 15-35 white male demographic.   Why?   You can sell them anything.  Facebook is getting older, and more feminine and more conservative.  Hence these fake "alarming news" stories spread like wildfire on Facebook.

And perhaps that is the point of these fake news sites.   Indeed, many even have, in their disclaimers, this explanation - that their intention is to create fake news stories and try to get them to "go viral" to show how stupid people - particularly people on "social media" really are.

And perhaps this should be alarming for Facebook.   When people realize that the junk in their "feed" is mostly made-up stories, lies, crap, junk, and advertisements, the incentive to go back online may diminish.   Already, it seems as though younger people are finding another outlet for their spare time.

If Facebook turns into an old folks home, where FoxNews-watching types exchange scare stories about the "Wal-Mart Slasher" it will turn into a joke.