You may not know it yet, but those cute, totally non-political photos of cats you’re sharing may be used to bolster misinformation. Lucky for you, The New York Times just did an entire write-up on it.
They accuse purveyors of fake news of using photos and/or GIFs of cute animals (mostly cats, because cats are adorable) to gain an audience and effectively loophole the social media algorithm. Then, just when you’re expecting the page to post a new, heart-melting photo, BAM! They slap you with misinformation! And just like that, you’re spouting all kinds of nonsense to your friends and family, and putting tin foil on your head.
Or something like that.
“The website of Dr. Joseph Mercola, an osteopathic physician who researchers say is a chief spreader of coronavirus misinformation online, regularly posts about cute animals that generate tens or even hundreds of thousands of interactions on Facebook. The stories include ‘Kitten and Chick Nap So Sweetly Together’ and ‘Why Orange Cats May Be Different From Other Cats,’ written by Dr. Karen Becker, a veterinarian,” the article reads.
“The posts with the animals do not directly spread false information. But they can draw a huge audience that can be redirected to a publication or site spreading false information about election fraud, unproven coronavirus cures and other baseless conspiracy theories entirely unrelated to the videos. Sometimes, following a feed of cute animals on Facebook unknowingly signs users up as subscribers to misleading posts from the same publisher,” it accuses.
Does this mean one can expect fact-checkers to take on cute cat pictures next?
Cue Twitter, and some more photos of those fake news cats we’ve been hearing so much about: