3 When Emotional Content Goes Viral

In addition to the four strategies discussed in the last section, it is especially important to fact-check claims when they evoke strong emotions. Some of the information found on social media or the web may cause us to experience emotions such as happiness, anger, pride or vindication, and our inclination is to immediately share this information with others. Remember to verify these claims, just as you would when you fact-check statistics for inclusion in an academic paper.

Below are some examples of emotionally-charged tweets:

A tweet from Twitter user @RonHogan that reads “The Nazis murdered Senator Schumer’s grandmother and most of her children. Trump’s father was arrested at a Ku Klux Klan rally.” It is in response to a Donald Trump tweet. It has been retweeted over 55,000 times.
A tweet from Twitter user @RonHogan

You do not need to know much of the background of this tweet to see its emotionally-charged nature. President Trump had insulted Chuck Schumer, a Democratic Senator from New York, and characterized the tears that Schumer shed during a statement about refugees as “fake tears.”  This tweet reminds us that Senator Schumer’s great-grandmother died at the hands of the Nazis, which could explain Schumer’s emotional connection to the issue of refugees.

Or does it? Do we actually know that Schumer’s great-grandmother died at the hands of the Nazis? And if we are not sure this is true, should we really be retweeting it?

Our normal inclination is to ignore the need to fact-check when we react strongly to content, and researchers have found that content that causes strong emotions (both positive and negative) spreads the fastest through our social networks. For further reading, see “What Emotion Goes Viral the Fastest?” by Matthew Shaer. Activists and advocates take advantage of our emotional response to information.


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Web Literacy for College Students 2nd Ed Copyright © 2020 by NSCC and Michael A. Caulfield is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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