When Social Media Debunk Conspiracy Theories: New at Reason

A few days after the Parkland high school massacre, an aide to a Florida state legislator lost his job for claiming that two survivors were “not students here but actors that travel to various crisis [sic] when they happen.” Such “crisis actor” rumors, which have spread after several recent public tragedies, are a reminder that people are capable of believing bizarre stories that are supported by only the thinnest alleged evidence. But some pundits think they represent something more: a breakdown in the media ecosystem.
A February 20 ThinkProgress article, to pick one representative example, announces in its lede that crisis-actor tales “have spread like wildfire across social media platforms—despite the repeated promises of Big Tech to crack down on fake news.” The author circles back to that idea at the end, arguing that “the viral spread of the ‘crisis actor’ theory, along with other recent examples of highly-shared fake content,

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