The DNA Of Misinformation

Ever wonder how misinformation goes viral? Let’s follow a typo made by CNBC as it propagates across the Web. The story quotes a post from Kim Kardashian and Kylie Jenner about the recent Instagram redesign. It’s an object lesson about the truly revolting lack of journalistic standards that pervade our digital lives.

Image via Shelley Palmer

The Typo

As most of you know, I write a daily newsletter that aggregates the five to seven most interesting industry news stories. On weekdays, the email begins with my thoughts about the news of the day. Last Tuesday (July 26), I wrote “Everybody Hates Facebook,” a short post about how much everyone hated Meta’s redesign of Facebook and Instagram’s UX. By Friday, it was a major news story and there were dozens of news items about Kim Kardashian and Kylie Jenner really hating the Instagram redesign. It is a rare occasion where I can legitimately use the clickbait power of a Kim and Kylie headline and get away with it. This was truly a gift from the email-open-percentage-rate gods.

The story I chose to feature was “Sisters Kylie Jenner and Kim Kardashian urge Instagram to stop copying TikTok,” from CNBC. The article featured a quote from Kylie, “Strop trying to be tiktok I just want to see cute photos of my friends.” I’ve added the italics for emphasis. (This typo was corrected the moment CNBC was notified, but that is not the point of this story.)

CNBC Kylie Jenner Typo

Kylie is a billionaire business woman. Did she post a typo? Does she not proof her posts? Is it possible she doesn’t know how to spell “stop”? Why is TikTok all lowercase? Is CNBC trying to make her look stupid? I was about to write some pretty snarky stuff about Kylie and Kim, you know, take a cheap shot, use their fame for clickbait and move on, but something didn’t feel right.

A Little Bit of Fact Checking

Time to search the InterWeb for corroboration about Kylie’s post. A quick search turned up dozens of results with the exact “Strop trying to be tiktok I just want to see cute photos of my friends” quote. Now, something was clearly not right. All of the other news outlets had picked up the article from CNBC and copied the quote exactly. But I could not find the original quote.

After more digging, I found that the “quote” is not a quote at all; it’s an image on a change.org petition and Kylie reposted it with a single word, “PLEASEEEEEEE.”

A Quick Fix (Kind of)

We reached out to Jonathan Vanian, the CNBC reporter who posted the original article and asked him if it was a typo. He responded immediately that it was a typo and he thanked us for bringing it to his attention. CNBC corrected the article within 30 minutes of our initial contact. This is exactly what you would expect from a true journalist. Thank you, Jonathan. But that didn’t have much impact on the hundreds of sites that had simply cut and pasted the quote.

The Typo Lives On

If you’re interested in seeing a great example of the propagation of misinformation across the World Wide Web, you can use this typo as “DNA evidence” for the original file.

Search Google for “Strop trying to be tiktok I just want to see cute photos of my friends” (you will need the quotes, and make sure you don’t let Google correct the typo for you – it will try). There are still hundreds of results pointing to articles that contain the typo. My guess is that most of them will never be corrected. Will other authors decide to write some negative or snarky comments about Kim or Kylie based on the quoted text? If they do, it will be written on misinformation (an innocent typo).

Importantly, if you now search for “Stop trying to be tiktok I just want to see cute photos of my friends” (correcting the spelling of the word stop), you will get hundreds of articles that correctly quoted the image Kylie reposted or corrected the typo since the CNBC correction.

What to Do?

At the end of the day, there’s nothing any of us can do about lazy, copy-and-paste journalists-in-name-only. Fact checking is time consuming, so it is rare. And for bad actors with an agenda, information is too easily weaponized.

What interested me about this non-incident was watching this typo travel around the Web. I was happy to have fact-checked my source and to have written my commentary Kardashians Krush Insta, with a different, less snarky tone of voice. Of course, I still found a way to use some Kardashian clickbait.


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Disclosure: This is not a sponsored post. I am the author of this article and it expresses my own opinions. I am not, nor is my company, receiving compensation for it.

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