Fake news travels six times faster on Twitter than true stories

Despite its ubiquitous presence, scientists say many questions remain unanswered about the growing reach of fake news. The discovery of the Higgs boson leaked through Twitter before its official announcement in 2012.

Why did the false rumor cascades spread faster?

For their study, appearing in the March 2018 issue of the journal Science, the MIT team attempted to make sense of how and why fake news and misinformation spreads fast via Twitter.

Soroush Vosoughi, another coauthor of the paper and a postdoc at MIT Media Lab’s Laboratory for Social Machines (LSM), began looking into the subject in the aftermath of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.

For the study, Aral’s team analyzed about 126,000 stories tweeted by roughly 3 million Twitter accounts between 2006 and 2017.

The study authors aimed to be apolitical in distinguishing what was true or false. Congress and the FBI are investigating evidence that Russian and other foreign users deliberately flooded social media with untrue reports and posts meant to mislead people about political candidates. “I say that boldly because I know it’s hard to make a claim like that”. They found that their judgments matched with facts about 95 percent of the time.

Aral and his colleagues fished through the Twitter database for a specific type of reply tweet. Each rumor was then scrutinized for its truth or falsity by several fact-checking organizations.

The total number of rumor cascades (true and false news) across the seven most frequent categories.

By nearly all metrics, false cascades outpaced true ones. However, at least 1 percent of rumor cascades based on false news did this routinely.

One compelling reason for the discrepancy is that fake news is typically juicier and more interesting than the truth. Snopes: False. Time to 200 retweets: 4.2 hours. Instead, fake news was more likely to go truly viral, spreading organically among real Twitter users.

Some of this feels obvious: Fake news is created to push people’s buttons and encourage them to share through sheer outrage.

According to the researchers, false news stories are a massive 70pc more likely to be retweeted than true stories are.

University of Pennsylvania communications professor Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a co-founder of factcheck.org, had problems with the way the study looked at true and false stories.

These features, especially the greater “novelty”, might be expected to draw more attention to false news, the researchers say.

“It’s easier to be novel and surprising when you’re not bound by reality”, coauthor Roy said told Scientific American’s Larry Greenemeier.

The role of social media in spreading misinformation, propelled by bots has been heavily scrutinized since the election of US President Donald Trump in 2016.

Tweets containing false news (depicted in orange in this data visualization) spread to more people through Twitter than tweets containing true news (teal).

In recent months, companies like Facebook have taken deliberate steps to reduce the amount of false stories bots spread. The concocted story started on a sports comedy website, but it quickly spread on social media-and people took it seriously.

Unfortunately, we can’t just blame the robots.

False information on the internet travels faster than the truth, researchers said Thursday. As such, it’s entirely possible that some people retweeted a fake news post and added a comment to debunk it. If a tweet is labeled “false”, that doesn’t imply that the person who wrote it is trying to pull a fast one. “There hasn’t been any real large-scale study of this phenomenon up until now”.

Fake news spreads faster than true news on Twitter—thanks to people, not bots


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