Here's a story about some fascinating research near and dear to my heart, the study of misinformation and myths people pass on to others (Obama seems to be the top target of this stuff, from birthers to whether he's Muslim). I've not read the study myself, published in the April 2011 Human Communication Research, but the point seems to be that an old friend -- email -- may be more to blame than all those crazy web sites and partisan talking heads. Why? “rumors e-mailed to friends and family are more likely believed and shared with others,” writes the author, R. Kelly Garrett of Ohio State. Makes sense.
Think of this as the two-step flow of mythmaking. How often have you gotten emails with dire warnings and had to reply with a link to Snopes or some other mythbusting site to point out the world is not going to end tomorrow? Get an email from a friend and, if they're not seen as completely kooky, it apparently carries a little more weight. I'll read the full article this weekend and discuss further because this is an important step in understanding how these misperceptions emerge and grow.