Some people will believe anything if it’s written on the internet.
We’ve all known that kid on the playground who swears that his dad works for Warner Bros or Disney or Nintendo or some other big company, and who therefore has insider knowledge into the upcoming release of Avengers VS My Little Pony: The Musical.
A lot of the time, internet comments are barely a few steps removed from this kind of nonsense, as people try to pass off clearly false information as gospel truth.
But often, there’s a far more insidious reason for rumors snowballing in unexpected ways.
Comic book fans like to speculate, which is fair enough, and everyone’s entitled to question what might be coming in future movies.
Then, though, fans will start posting their speculations online.
The problem with that, of course, is that as things bounce around in the giant echo chamber that is the comic book movie community, it doesn’t take long for someone to misunderstand what they’re reading, and for idle speculation to morph into rumor, and then into popular belief.
The journey from “wouldn’t it be cool if” to “it’s been confirmed by several major news outlets” is a short and hazardous one.
A wonderful case study for this kind of rumor spinning occurred this week, when Movie News Guide posted a speculative piece on what might happen in a future Avengers movie, with regards to a potential team up between Fox and Marvel.
Here’s the kind of thing the piece contained:
“If Marvel were to negotiate the rights for the superhero teams and get them to star in Avengers: Infinity War, it could see a huge line-up of heroes assembling together.
“Marvel struck a deal with Sony and was able to get Spider-Man. Similarly, if Fantastic Four and X-Men were to be a part of the MCU, they could all work under the same roof and battle Thanos.”
This is fairly even handed, and clearly signposted as little more than speculation.
It’s also a very basic assumption that a lot of fans have held about what might (key word: “might”) happen if Fox and Marvel patched up their differences.
The problem is, not everyone interpreted the piece as it was meant to be read.
Later the same day, iTechPost published a piece quoting Movie News Guide, but it’s clear that whoever wrote this second piece wasn’t interested in maintaining the realism of the original.
With a headline reading “'Avengers: Infinity War' Spoilers And News Update: Fantastic Four And X-Men Will Join The Movie”, the piece went on to cite Movie News Guide as a source of important information regarding the upcoming film.
“According to Movie News Guide, The Avengers are just one of the numerous superheroes of Marvel. Besides them, many were also fascinated with Fantastic Four and the X-Men. All characters played a huge part in the lives of every people who became fascinated by supernatural beings. With this, fans from all over the world are looking forward to see all of them defeating an enemy in one movie.”
Delving into the piece itself, there’s plenty of use of the word “speculated” to avoid telling an outright lie, but it doesn’t matter. The Damage is done. The headline alone has convinced casual readers that a Marvel/Fox deal has been ironed out, and that the X-Men are coming to the MCU.
This then bounces further down into the echo chamber, as readers begin perpetuating the lie, without anyone taking the time to properly research where the initial rumor came from.
Of course, there’s a second reason why these kinds of stories travel so fast: people really, really want it to be true.
Comic book movie fans are desperate for a deal between Fox and Marvel, and with the precedent of a successful Sony deal bolstering fan expectations, internet users are willing to believe whatever nonsense story gets spun that confirms the news they’re silently waiting to hear.
This, in turn, is why headlines like the one in the iTechPost story exist.
Online journalists are looking to generate clicks at all cost, and that means sometimes telling half-truths in order to make links look more appealing.
It’s essentially the same logic that created clickbait, but, if anything, it’s more dangerous.
If you say “You Won’t Believe What’s Going On Behind Closed Doors at Marvel and Fox”, your headline might grab attention, but people have learned to recognize and ignore obvious clickbait, and they therefore won’t get suckered into believing an untruth.
If, on the other hand, you straight up lie in your news headline, people are going to begin believing what you’ve said. There’s no easy way of identifying a false news story, as Mark Zuckerberg is currently finding out to the detriment of Facebook’s credibility.
So what’s the takeaway from all this. It isn’t that you should click on every suspicious headline to check whether a story is actually believable—after all, that would just encourage this kind of nonsense.
You also shouldn’t stop speculating about movies online. If we give up that most cherished of fan pursuits, we’re letting the unscrupulous news reporters win.
Instead, maybe it’s time for us to adopt a greater level of cynicism when checking recent news. Don’t believe anything you read unless you can find an exact quote from a legitimate source.
It’s only when we’re all being a little more careful to avoid being duped, that ridiculous rumors will die off in favor of legitimate reporting.
By the way, did you know that Batman’s going to be in Infinity War? My friend who works for Disney told me so, and he was right about Spider-Man appearing in Justice League, I assume.