Published: Sat, March 10, 2018
Markets | By Rosalie Gross

Fake news is 70% more likely to be shared than true stories

Fake news is 70% more likely to be shared than true stories

Political news, in particular, spread more than three times faster than tweets about terrorism, natural disasters, science, urban legends or financial information.

In February, the US Justice Department charged 13 Russians with allegedly trying to "promote discord in the United States" by posing as Americans on social media.

Fake news remains a serious problem, and we only have ourselves to blame.

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have had a report published with Science Magazine called "The spread of true and false news online". And they're good at it, too: Tweets containing falsehoods reach 1500 people on Twitter six times faster than truthful tweets, the research reveals. Falsehoods were 70 per cent more likely to be retweeted than the truth, according to some estimates.

But social media serves as the currents in which false and misleading news is swept far and wide.

"Twitter became our main source of news", said Soroush Vosoughi, a postdoctoral student at the varsity. That included links to articles, people talking about the topic in their own tweets, and memes or other images. It is hard to know for sure, because Twitter is one of the few platforms that shares the relevant data with the public.

"It kind of popped", Roy said. And if we do filter based on anticipated emotional response, how do we do that while still respecting free speech and taking cultural differences into account?

It also took genuine stories six times as long to reach an audience of 1,500 compared to fake news.

More news: Turkey part of 'triangle of evil'

The trio of researchers examined the likelihood that a tweet would create a "rumor cascade"-that is, a chain of retweets".

"We define news as any story or claim with an assertion in it and a rumor as the social phenomena of a news story or claim spreading or diffusing through the Twitter network", they wrote in the study. The researchers saw spikes in false stories around politics during the 2012 and 2016 USA presidential elections, as well. With the amount of fake news being spread increasing, it's important to understand how it may be combated as it has shown to be damaging to economies, businesses and people.

"False political news reached more than 20,000 people almost three times faster than all other types of false news reached 10,000 people", the study said. "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". Overall, they found that false rumors inspired replies expressing greater surprise, whereas true tweets inspired replies that were generally associated with sadness. That makes them think humans are the reason misinformation gets around more than accurate news.

Dr Vosoughi is now looking at interventions to try and stop the virality of false news.

The study's findings faulting humans more than bots for sharing false news surprised the researchers, who said they next may look for ways to help people cut down on the sharing of false stories.

While bots have often been blamed for the spread of inaccurate news, the team found that they're not always behind the swift spread of false news. As the way we consume information changes rapidly, we're struggling to keep up with the various ways in which we validate or invalidate what we read and see in the news.

Roy and Vosoughi then reportedly approached Twitter, which then opened up its archives for study.

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