Recently, a satirical article was posted on the internet in such a way that an untrained observer would think it was on the BBC website. The article detailed an alleged mutation in the Swine Flu virus.
The likely intent of the article was to produce belly laughs among a subculture of individuals who are web savvy enough to understand the article to be fake. My roommate and I both saw it and immediately laughed. Another effect was to induce an element of panic among people who didn't know how to spot a fake website.
There has been a small outbreak of "zombism" in London due to mutation of the H1N1 virus into new strain: H1Z1.
Similar to a scare originally found in Cambodia back in 2005, victims of a new strain of the swine flu virus H1N1 have been reported in London.
After death, this virus is able to restart the heart of it's victim for up to two hours after the initial demise of the person where the individual behaves in extremely violent ways from what is believe to be a combination of brain damage and a chemical released into blood during "resurrection."
Both groups had a great reason to spread the article around; but one group was spreading a joke while the other was spreading an article which contained a credible threat to their life.
It didn't even occur to me that there were very many people who would take this seriously, until a friend made a reference to it in conversation and discussed it in a serious tone. I was taken aback, and frankly didn't know how to break it to him that he had been trolled.
This is curious to me because we are all part of a generation that is (at least in theory) supposed to be more web savvy. If we're so great, how come people who are part of our generation are still falling for this stuff?
I'll posit a guess that it comes not in a small way in the way that we get our information. I found that website through reddit.com, a website which is designed to link its users to other interesting information on the internet. Much of the content that users are directed to is pretty entertaining, so I assumed it would be a joke because of the source.
My friend likely received the link through a more traditional source; perhaps a friend or a family member sent him a link and advised him to be cautious.
It then became clear to me that he wasn't using the same internet I was, even though there is no barrier to him accessing the internet in the same way as I have been.
If he wasn't using my internet, then there must be a whole other group of people who use the internet as a superpowered post office/newspaper. They haven't developed the tools to validate information from sites that they don't always go to because for them the internet is a collection of websites which they regularly visit. These people hang out on ESPN, the New York Times, Yahoo!, Youtube, and the like.
Since they always go to the same sites, their ability to detect a poor source atrophies. One doesn't need to think as hard about information they get from the paper of record as one does when gleaning information from a collection of lower-profile blogs and websites.
We begin to see a clash when the more web-savvy culture crashes with the first. An excellent NYT article worth a full read profiles the people behind these "trollings." One prominent troll characterizes his activities as "Leading on confused people" and adds "Why don't people fact-check who this stuff is coming from? Why do they assume it's true?"
I would guess it's because they're not conditioned to.