Boosting Disinformation’s Audience while Debunking it


Sometimes people come across an inauthentic narrative that they don’t believe, or one they disagree with morally. They re-share with the intent of mocking, debunking, or expressing incredulity, however they risk exposing the content to other potential victims and amplifying its reach.

Relevant stage of the Disinformation Cycle

Example Scenario

Let’s say I follow someone I know is spreading inauthentic narratives online. One day they post that Hawaiian Pizzas are a front for money laundering and any sales data for pineapple pizza is fraudulent. In fact, here’s a news story about a pizzeria where their food waste bins were full of whole pineapples, even though they say many of their patrons prefer pineapple on pizza. If you still believe there are legitimately that many people voting with their wallet for pineapple’s presence on pizza, then you’re a shill.

I share this to my followers with some sort of witty comment like “what a dick”. In a reply to my post I say “People, this one restaurant having to throw away pineapples does not invalidate all the data we have from all the restaurants about how many people buy pineapple pizza.”

My audience has not got a lot of crossover with the OP’s audience, so this sharing exposes their inauthentic narrative with a lot of new potential victims. Most of them quickly scrolling through their feed don’t even see the comment explaining why it’s false. Even those that do read the debunk may later go on to forget the complicated stats-y explanation of why the narrative was false, only remembering the pithy, emotionally compelling story originally shared.

Further Reading