According to a posting on Reddit, Tony Blair “took 400,000 pounds from a fund for disadvantaged children to set up an office in a five-star hotel in West Asia.” The story of a wealthy, conservative politician committing a heartless act of greed in the name of material comforts and at the expense of the neediest. As one might imagine, the Reddit userbase rushed to “upvote,” or declare worthy of attention, the story until it achieved over 1200 net upvotes. Not an unprecedented number, but still higher than most stories that get submitted every day receive.
Only, the source was not the most reliable one. Also, the details were not exactly true. The fund was not strictly for disadvantaged children, as the headline claimed, but, as a comment on the article noted, the UK government’s department for international development. Details you would only get if you decided to read down through several pun and joke comments first, but still, the information was there. But that did not stop the story from rising to the top. The, as Stephen Colbert would put it, “truthiness” of the story was too much for those who simply like to read headlines to ignore. It all sounded so right and in tune with what people truly wanted to believe, they were all too gleeful to revel in the perceived truth of the statement to stop and examine it critically.
This is not a unique phenomenon for Reddit. They have had misleading headlines, entirely false stories, hoaxes, myths, outdated and readily debunked studies being voted up years later to only minor retractions in small subreddits after the fact. Reddit makes for a nice social news aggregator, but those relying on it exclusively should remember to approach a site with such a structure with a very critical eye.