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A Sobering Study About the Allure of Fake News

By Thom Fladung/Hennes Communications

Fake news has existed virtually since humans began to communicate. In the case of the United States, it’s existed since before we were the United States.

You may have heard of one of its most skilled practitioners: Benjamin Franklin.

In 1782, working on a homemade printing press in a Paris suburb, Franklin created an entirely fake issue of a real Boston newspaper, the Independent Chronicle.

As Robert G. Parkinson wrote in the Washington Post, one of the fake stories reported that American forces on the New York frontier had discovered bags containing more than 700 scalps – bags of scalps from soldiers, boys, girls and even infants, all allegedly taken by Indians in league with King George. Franklin reported that a note from the Indians to King George, found with the bags, said they hoped he’d enjoy these presents and be “refreshed.”

Franklin sent copies of the fake newspaper to colleagues. The story appeared in legitimate newspapers in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, New York and Rhode Island.

Today, fueled by social media, fake news like Franklin composed over months of work can spread in seconds.

The Atlantic recently reported on what it called a massive new study by MIT researchers, published in Science, that analyzed every contested news story in English across the 10-plus years of Twitter’s existence. Here’s the quick summary of that research: Fake news and false rumors reach more people, penetrate deeper into the social network and spread much faster than accurate stories. As The Atlantic put it, a false story reaches 1,500 people six times quicker, on average, than a true story does.

Read The Atlantic’s fascinating – and sobering – story here. And for an even deeper dive, check out the study published in Science.

Thom Fladung is managing partner of Hennes Communications. Reach him at and 216-213-5196. 

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