Study finds false stories on Twitter travel way faster than the truth

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An analysis of more than 4.5 million tweets and retweets from 2006 through 2017 shows that inaccurate news stories spread faster - and further - on Twitter than true stories.

Now, however, a first-of-its-kind study has taken a broader look at the spread of fake news on social media, and the results are incredibly troubling.

Menczer is a prominent voice on the fight against fake news whose research is frequently cited in major media outlets and academic conferences.

"What we want to convey most is that fake news is a real problem, it's a tough problem, and it's a problem that requires serious research to solve", said Menczer in a press release.

The researchers also found a connection between the "novelty" of a bit of news and the likelihood that a Twitter user retweeted it.

While the study was funded by Twitter (which also gave the team access to its full historical tweet archives), Dr Vosoughi said it was conducted independently.

By nearly all metrics, false cascades outpaced true ones. As such, it's entirely possible that some people retweeted a fake news post and added a comment to debunk it.

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Political news was the largest rumour category with about 45,000 "cascades".

During the 2016 US presidential election, the internet was abuzz with discussion when reports surfaced that Floyd Mayweather wore a hijab to a Donald Trump rally, daring people to fight him.

The researchers selected stories that had been investigated by six fact checking sites including snopes.com and politifact.com. In order to take personal bias or outliers out of the equation, the researchers honed in on tweets that could be determined true or false by a 95 percent agreement between each of the six sources.

The evidence was conclusive: fake news stories are far more likely to have a "cascade" effect than those that are true.

Recently, social media companies have been made to face U.S. and United Kingdom lawmakers about the role of bots on their platforms.

David Lazer, a social media analyst at Harvard, says false stories may travel faster because they tend to be more fascinating.

"We're not saying that bots did not have an effect, but bots can not explain everything", Dr Vosoughi said.

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The amount of fake news on Twitter is increasingly, and spikes dramatically during key events such as the 2016 US Presidential election, the report suggests, alongside the assertion users spreading fake news were likely to have low numbers of followers, follow less people and engage less with the platform.

"We have witnessed abuse, harassment, troll armies, manipulation through bots and human-coordination, misinformation campaigns and increasingly divisive echo chambers", tweeted Twitter co-founder and CEO Jack Dorsey. They also used a broad definition of "news". Instead, false news speeds faster around Twitter due to people retweeting inaccurate news items. "And you see now platforms like Facebook and others starting to do that", he says, "by reducing the visibility of accounts that are known to be spreading false news".

False news was more novel than the truth and people were more likely to share novel information. "People are seeing it in the media and so it's front of mind". And, at least on Twitter, it goes even farther than facts.

"We are not going to remove content based on the fact this is untrue", he told British MPs in February.

"The more odd and more sensational the story sounds, the more likely they are going to retweet", Kahan said.

A computer program compared the language in the retweets to the language in the tweets seen within 60 days and produced a score that determined how novel the retweet was from the other content. Tweets of false stories came way out on top, indicating they were more novel than the truth.

Bot panic or not, Dr Vosoughi said social media companies may need to intervene.

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