School of Information Studies (iSchool) Assistant Professor Jeff Hemsley will speak about the reasons behind the viral spread of fake news on the Internet in a lecture held at the Skaneateles Library on August 24.

While social media can be a democratizing force, allowing voices to be heard that would otherwise be ignored or suppressed, it also enables the spread of rumors, conspiracy theories and fake news. When content is shared across sites such as Facebook and Twitter, it can go viral and spread quickly to hundreds, thousands, and even millions of people.

The consequences of the viral spread of fake information on the Internet extend offline, too. Tweets spreading rumors that a zoo’s tiger was lose and roaming the streets of London led to a brief panic in 2012, and an entirely fabricated conspiracy theory linking a politician to a human trafficking ring spread virally and ended in a man firing shots into a pizza restaurant in Washington D.C. in 2016. 

In his talk, Hemsley will explain how viral events work, and what makes some content go viral while other content stays obscure. He will explore how viral fake news differs from viral factual news, and will provide insight into the inner works of what goes viral and how. He will also discuss why fake political news is likely more prone to spread than other kinds of fake news.

Hemsley is co-author of the book Going Viral, which explains what virality is, how it works technologically and socially, and draws out the implications of this process for social change. At the iSchool, he is a founding member of the Behavior, Information, Technology and Society Laboratory (BITS lab), and teaches courses on information visualization at the graduate level.

He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Washington’s Information School, where he was a founding member of the Social Media Lab at the University of Washington.

The lecture, made possible in part by a state grant secured by Senator John A. DeFrancisco, will be held at 6:30 PM on Thursday, August 24 at the library. The library is located at 49 East Genesee Street in Skaneateles. Registration for the event is requested, and can be completed online.