March 17, 2018

Lies spread faster on social media than truth does

10 March 2018, 12:42 | Kenneth Drake

False News Travels Farther, Faster Than The Truth, MIT Study Finds

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

MIT researchers looked at roughly 126,000 stories shared by around 3 million people on Twitter from 2006 to 2017.

This week, Roy and Vosoughi - now an MIT postdoc - published the latest in a series of research projects related to that switch, a broad-reaching paper in the journal Science that draws a grim conclusion: on Twitter, false info spreads far more rapidly than real news. They found that false stories are 70 percent more likely than true ones to be retweeted.

Also of interest is the fact that true stories took about six times longer to reach the first 1,500 people compared to false stories.

Specifically, they investigated how mechanisms in Twitter, coupled with peculiarities in human behavior on social media, make it easy for fake news to spread.

They say it is necessary to understand how fake news spreads and to take countermeasures.

They said it could be because fake news tends to be "more novel".

When the researchers used an algorithm to weed out tweets likely posted and circulated by bots, both false and true news continued to circulate at the same rates.

Not surprisingly, the number of people touched by false news far exceeded the number who read true stories. The only major change was that bots sped up the spread of all news, true and false: "This suggests that false news spreads farther, faster, deeper and more broadly than the truth because humans, not robots, are more likely to spread it". Unlike the MIT researchers-who avoided saying "fake news" and called the term "irredeemably polarized"-Baum, Lazer and their colleagues embraced it".

"We hope our work inspires more large-scale research into the causes and consequences of the spread of false news as well as its potential cures". False stories spread faster than truth in every information category.

The issue also includes "The science of fake news", an overview by a veritable Who's Who of academics who study this stuff (deep breath: David Lazer, Matthew Baum, Yochai Benkler, Adam Berinsky, Kelly Greenhill, Filippo Menczer, Miriam Metzger, Brendan Nyhan, Gordon Pennycook, David Rothschild, Michael Schudson, Steven Sloman, Cass Sunstein, Emily Thorson, Duncan Watts, Jonathan Zittrain).

"Although we can not claim that novelty causes retweets or that novelty is the only reason why false news is retweeted more often, we do find that false news is more novel and that novel information is more likely to be retweeted", the researchers wrote. In particular, the spread of fake news has drawn much attention recently in a political context.

"I realized that ... a good chunk of what I was reading on social media was rumours; it was false news". In the US, political polarization has caused a dislike of the "other side", fostering an environment where fake news can attract a mass audience.

For Ms Roy and Mr Vosughi, interest in the topic was sparked after the Boston marathon bombing in MA in 2013, when he relied on exclusively on Twitter to know if it was safe to leave the house or not. They want that because they know that readers, customers and investors view companies as more trustworthy when the content is true.

Researchers assessed the veracity of the cascades against six fact-checking organisations, including and and found a 95pc overlap in judgement across all six bodies.

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