If this story was about spiders, there’s a good chance it would contain a factual error or be ‘sensationalised’.
“The quality of spider information in the global press is rather poor – errors and sensationalism are rampant,” said Stefano Mammola, international spider expert (calling him a Spider-Man would likely fall into both categories).
“Spider-related information in the press flows through a highly interconnected global network, and the spread of misinformation is driven by a limited number of key factors, the sensationalistic tone of an article being particularly important.”
Mammola’s new research looked at the accuracy of spider-related news stories around the world, looking at 5348 yarns written in 41 languages and 81 countries between 2010 and 2020, during which the “information ecosystem” became “increasingly polluted” with fake news.
The results were 47 percent of stories had factual errors and 43 percent were “scored as sensationalistic” by experts in all things arachnid.
The further from the source an article was – eg an international outlet picking up a local report – the less accurate and more sensational it was likely to be.
“I was particularly surprised by the fact that even very local-scale events – say, the story of a farmer bitten by a spider in some remote village in Australia – published by a regional newspaper can quickly become broadcast internationally,” said Mammola.
“This implies that improving the quality of the information produced in these local nodes could have a positive effect reverberating across the information network.”
A real-life example of the damage fake spider-news has done is the case of a man burning down his house with a blowtorch, fighting off a harmless eight-legged invasion.
Perhaps looking for some extra unpaid work, Mammola said consulting a spider expert reduced the likelihood of a report being a web of lies.
The study, The global spread of misinformation on spiders, was published this week in Current Biology.