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The way a hyper-local news article went viral on Facebook shows that even legitimate news has the potential to mislead readers on social media

Business Insider | Jun 6, 2019, 10.36PM IST

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Reuters

  • A Canadian Broadcasting Corporation article about a tiny Canadian province got nearly 6 million interactions on Facebook, despite being about a hyper-local issue.
  • It's a case study in how even legitimate news can spread and potentially mislead readers.
  • A journalist who spotted the article's rise said the incident is part of a broader disinformation landscape on Facebook.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation had an article about a tiny Canadian province's crackdown on drivers who pass school buses go viral on Facebook - and it speaks to social media's potential to spread misperceptions.   

The story's reach was noticed by Radio Canada journalist Jeff Yates, who covers internet misinformation and tweeted a screenshot of the article's outsized reach compared to other CBC articles.

 

"I was working on a story and looked for most popular article on CBC of the past year and I saw immediately that something that wasn't normal - a super local piece about Canada's smallest province having almost 6 million interactions on Facebook," Yates said.

The article was posted in November but since spread around Facebook when it was picked up by local-focused sites and groups around North America and even an interest page for school bus drivers run out of Ukraine and Vietnam.

Yates noted that based on some of the comments on local community pages, people mistakenly thought the story -which originally didn't say the name of the locale in the headline - applied to their own community.

It's the fake news and extremist content on Facebook that's grabbed headlines and led it to partner with fact checkers and put other measures in place to fight the spread of such content on its platform and provide more transparency about pages. But the CBC story is something different. It shows how stories about emotional issues can go viral and be taken out of context, even when they're straight news articles from legitimate news organizations.

The irony is that Facebook has also been trying to promote local news on the platform, seeing the financial plight of local news organizations around the US. It's also been promoting groups as it's seen users gravitate to conversations within special interest communities on the platform. Yet groups can be fertile ground for misinformation to spread; Facebook itself has begun to crack down on groups along with pages for this reason.

Yates sees the article's spread as part of a broader disinformation landscape.

"This is unfortunately something we see a lot of on social media," Yates said. "It's not disinformation, but once you take it out of context, it can be misleading. There were no negative consequences, but you could see old news articles, pictures, videos, being posted out of context, pictures, videos, being taken out of context. In an election, that could change people's minds."

Business Insider reached out to the CBC for comment; we'll update this article if they respond.

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