I’ve been writing about misinformation that poses as legitimate news for years, and I recently published a book on the subject, but it doesn’t directly affect me personally every day. Today, however, it has in a big way.
Right now, there are dozens of people discussing my financial well being on my own fan page, spamming links to a website called Popularbio.com. The site has a page dedicated to my net worth, claiming, among other things, that I’m wroth between $1 million and $5 million. This claim is absolutely false.
The person who initially posted the screenshot on one of my threads implied that my arguments were hypocritical, considering my immense wealth.
I explained that it wasn’t true, but that didn’t stop people from claiming that I was lying or being “political” in my response. I decided to investigate further.
As it turns out, the screenshot the individual posted conveniently cropped out that the page stated the stated net worth was “not verified.” Other than that, however, the site appeared to be credible. For instance, it accurately portrays my birthdate, my profession, my birth sign, my birthplace, and a number of other details. In The Curious Person’s Guide to Fighting Fake News, I explain that the most effective propaganda operations will likely contain “at least some truthful reporting.”
“If you’re wondering what I mean by that, then think about it from a psychological perspective. Assuming you want to mislead the largest number of people, would it make more sense to spread only lies, or to publish a number of claims ranging from true to mostly false? Believe it or not, it always helps a lie to sprinkle in at least a grain of truth,” the book says.
This is what the site has done. It uses my accurate biographical data and photo, but the net worth estimate appears to be generated from thin air. It cites “Wikipedia, Forbes, IMDb & Various Online resources” for that, yet I could find no evidence that any of those sites contain any info about my net worth.
Still, despite the fact that this estimate is nowhere near accurate, and despite my clear and concise refutations, people continue to believe the false information. Some have guessed that I could have been given money from John McAfee, famous for starting a software company and infamous for being accused of killing someone, but this, too, is fake news. Not only am I not related to him, but I’ve never spoken with him.
This site was filled with red flags that I warn about in the book, and my wife and I both refuted its content in the comments, yet there are people who right now believe that I am a multi-millionaire who is pretending to be something that I’m not. Although some of the commenters eventually deleted their comments, including the person who posted the original screenshot, some of them won’t be satisfied that it’s false, absent perhaps me posting personal information or bank statements. Even then, they might claim it’s manufactured.
So, the moral of the story is: don’t believe everything you read online.
Yours in Reason,