The internet is home to a great deal of dubious knowledge. It is a place where misinformation and bad sourcing proliferate unbounded. Many people know, objectively, that there’s a lot of fake stuff online. As the rapper Lil B once said, “THERE’S SOME STUFF ON THE INTERNET THAT IS REALLY BAD.”
But bad stuff on the net — despite being bad, and despite its audience being aware of the badness — can often be successful. Case in point, the Facebook page and website spinoff I Fucking Love Science, whose founder, Elise Andrew, was featured today in Time magazine’s list of the 30 Most Influential People on the Internet. The brand, with its 24.2 million fans, often posts the type of viral science “wins” that people love — cool pictures of space, crazy experiments, dinosaur discoveries.
It’s cool to be interested in science. Never let anyone tell you otherwise. “Fake science fans,” like “fake gamers,” are not a real thing. But people who get most of their news filtered through IFLScience are often doing themselves a disservice, and when they share those posts, they’re usually doing others a disservice as well.
As Joe Veix wrote in 2014:
“I Fucking Love Science” is essentially the social media equivalent of carrying “War and Peace” with you on the subway, without ever reading it, or proudly proclaiming that you’re “such a nerd” because you play video games. The memes announce to the world: Look at me! I am smart! I like science!
As the site Skepchick covered last year, “Andrew has gone from a modern pop sci champion to contributing to the very media misinformation that scientists work hard to combat.” The site is consistently criticized for willful misrepresentation of the science that it claims to “fucking love.” (Full disclosure: Earlier today, I myself published a piece called “If This Blog Post Loads Too Slowly, Your Heart Will Explode,” which I pray was ridiculous enough that people realized it was a joke.)
Speaking to the claims of inaccuracy and fair-weather fandom surrounding the page, Andrew offered up this astoundingly terrible perspective:
“I’m not trying to teach people about science,” she tells TIME via email. “I’m trying to give people that moment where they say, O.K., this is interesting, and I WANT to learn more.”
To repeat, the head of one of the most popular science information pages on the world’s largest social network said explicitly, “I’m not trying to teach people about science.” So if all this time, you’ve been treating IFLScience as a credible news source, it might be time to think again. They don’t care about teaching you facts; they just want to pique your interest.