I'm going to The Amazing Meeting

Mick West

Staff member
Back for TAM2014 I'd proposed a talk on viral debunking. I thought I'd posted it before, but can't find it. So I'll just stick it here:


Burning Snow and Bieber’s Eyes – The Anatomy of Viral Debunking


In early 2014 a pseudoscientific story about burning snow and a supernatural story about Justin Bieber both spread virally over social media. As the stories were spreading I created debunking explanations to counter them, and successfully managed to make these debunks go viral – closely following the spread of the original stories, with over 500,000 unique views.

The actual debunking is scientifically trivial to most attendees, and so will be touched on only briefly (The snow was shrinking via a wicking effect, and being blackened by soot. Bieber's eyes looked weird due to video compression artifacts) Instead this presentation describes the tools and techniques necessary for an effective viral debunking, and how they were used in these two cases, including:
  • Rapid Response to minimize the spread of bunk
  • Search Engine Optimization for findable debunking
  • Use of rbutr.com for targeted Tweeting at highly connected bunk spreaders.
  • Use of the comment sections in major online media - it's better than you think.
  • Creating annotated images and animations for easy sharing by those with limited attention spans.
  • Handling the evolution and mutation of the story – reactive debunking
  • Scientific rigor, debunking other debunkers.
I will briefly (in the 10-15 minutes, so 1-2 minutes each) go over each of these techniques, and show quick examples of how it was used in stopping the spread of these two stories.

This topic is highly relevant to the JREF mission because for skeptical inquiry to work it needs to do more than simply provide reliable information about pseudoscience and the paranormal. We also need to get that information to the actual believers. Viral debunking is a very effective and increasingly necessary way of doing this.


Debunk of the burning snow

Debunk of Bieber's eyes:

The two debunking web sites I run:


Watched a very interesting documentary? about Randi last night "An Honest Liar". Only about 90 minutes and a good view for anyone who visits this site on a regular basis. Some very interesting insights about human nature and critical thinking skills, or lack thereof....

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