False news travels much faster than true news


Much has been made of attempts by foreign states to disseminate false information through the use of automated bots in recent months, particularly Russia's alleged effort to undermine the U.S. presidential election in 2016.

To study this effect, researchers looked at around 126,000 tweets, or what they term "rumour cascades", shared by Twitter users from 2006 to 2017, and measured how those tweets spread across the social network.

Fake news is 70% more likely to be shared on Twitter compared with real news stories, a study has revealed.

Social media good for democracy?

The genesis of the study involves the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings and subsequent casualties, which received massive attention on Twitter.

The chart above, delineates recent patterns of true, false and mixed rumors during Presidential news cycles. Responses to false news stories online prompted surprise and disgust, whereas replies to true stories evoked sadness, anticipation, joy and trust.

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So maybe it's not surprising that with a kernel of juicy - if fake - news in hand, so many people are then inclined to show off that new information and share it online.

I have not seen conclusive evidence that social media is causing political polarisation.

Social media has created a boom in the spread of information, although little is known about how it has facilitated the spread of false information. Twitter earlier this month said it is seeking help from outside experts to better deal with the problem. "Whereas if it were just bots, we would need a technological solution". "We aren't proud of how people have taken advantage of our service, or our inability to address it fast enough". True news also reaches and spread slowly than the false news.

Sinan Aral, along with fellow researchers Deb Roy and Soroush Vosoughi. The MIT team characterized a story's truth on a 1-to-5 scale, with 1 being completely false. And falsehoods are retweeted by unique users more broadly than true statements at every depth of cascade.

She also suggested that calling this bogus information "false stories" does not capture how malignant it is.

The researchers looked at obvious bots - automated accounts - and took them out. "[False] news spreads farther, faster, deeper, and more broadly than the truth because humans, not robots, are more likely to spread it".

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The study was conducted by researchers at MIT, and published on Thursday in the journal Science. Researchers found that the spread of false information is essentially not due to robots that are programmed to disseminate inaccurate stories.

The findings make depressing reading as politicians around the world grapple with how to educate people about determining fake news and the truth.

That fits perfectly with previous research on the psychology of fake information, said Yale University's Dan Kahan and Dartmouth College's Brendan Nyhan, scientists who study the phenomenon.

"Now behavioral interventions become even more important in our fight to stop the spread of false news", Aral says. But that would be misinformation.

Roy said the study results reminded him of the often-cited quotation that essentially says a lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth can get its boots - or trousers - on. Politifact traced a version of it back to Jonathan Swift in 1710.

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