Yellowstone Bison viral video editorial

Bison wander back toward Yellowstone National Park from outside the park’s northern border in the Gardiner Basin recently.

Sometimes a running bison is just a running bison.

Recently, many viewers of an online video of bison galloping down a road in Yellowstone National Park assumed the herd was spooked by the impending supervolcano eruption. Of course, the bison were running for no such reason, but the mistake is somewhat understandable and a good lesson on the perils of online viral videos: Popularity doesn't equal truthfulness.

On one hand, it's easy to reach the wrong conclusion regarding the running bison. After all, it's been proven animals can sense earthquakes, it's well-known Yellowstone is home to a giant volcano -- one bigger than previously known -- that hasn't erupted in 70,000 years and ... didn't a big earthquake just happen there?

All those things coalesce into a video's online virality: a kernel of truth, eye-widening claims and most importantly, a video image. The video certainly did go viral, garnering several million view on YouTube across several versions, including particularly unhelpful versions that included amateur commentators speculating on what was taking place. Representatives of Yellowstone National Park scrambled to fend off the incorrect rumors by releasing a video explainer that gathered only 400,000 views. The cold, honest truth isn't always as interesting, but we're glad the park responded. 

The truth, one we've reported, is that while Yellowstone is home to a supervolcano that hasn't erupted in millennia, a recent 4.8 magnitude earthquake on March 30 was one of dozens the park experiences every week, although most are less powerful. And, when the creator of the video was tracked down, it turns out that the March 20 video shows bison that were likely loping down the road headed into -- not away from -- the park, a full 10 days before the recent 4.8 magnitude earthquake.

We’ve previously reported the fears of an impending eruption are, pardon the expression, overblown. There's fascinating scientific work to be done in the Yellowstone area. It's a unique and wonderful place with secrets just waiting to be unlocked. But it's not a place scientists are fleeing any more than the bison were running away from the park.

Here’s a timely reminder -- one always worth remembering: Just because it’s viral doesn’t mean it’s true.

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