New study lays bare the frightening reality of fake news on Twitter
New study lays bare the frightening reality of fake news on Twitter
Fake news spreads faster than true news on Twitter—thanks to people, not bots
09 March, 2018, 14:35
Executives from Facebook, Twitter, and Google appeared before a U.S. Senate committee last October to discuss evidence of Russian influence operations on their respective platforms.
Social media sites - not exclusively Twitter - allow fake or false news to be "weaponized" in a new way, according to Tim Weninger, a computer science engineer who researches network science and social media at the University of Notre Dame, in an interview.
"We found that falsehood defuses significantly farther, faster, deeper, and more broadly than the truth, in all categories of information, and in many cases by an order of magnitude", says Sinan Aral, a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management and co-author of a new paper detailing the findings.
"Contrary to conventional wisdom, robots accelerated the spread of true and false news at the same rate, implying that false news spreads more than the truth because humans, not robots, are more likely to spread it", the study's authors wrote.
In a study published previous year, Weninger found that 70 percent of Reddit users "upvoted" news posts without bothering to read them. The results may compel us to hang our heads in shame. Twitter earlier this month said it is seeking help from outside experts to better deal with the problem.
It was sparked by the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, when Vosoughi realized much of what he was reading on social media amounted to rumors.
The trio of researchers examined the likelihood that a tweet would create a "rumor cascade"-that is, a chain of retweets".
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The team explained their reasoning behind this decision: "As politicians have implemented a political strategy of labelling news sources that do not support their positions as unreliable or fake news, whereas sources that support their positions are labelled reliable or not fake, the term has lost all connection to the actual veracity of the information presented, rendering it meaningless for use in academic classiﬁcation". For comparison, urban legends had 30,000. They relied on six fact-checking organizations to determine whether a story was true or false. Indeed, their data showed a clear increase in the number of false political rumors between 2012 and 2016, coinciding with US presidential elections, of course.
"It took the truth about six times as long as falsehood to reach 1,500 people". In fact, truthful cascades rarely made it out to more than 1,000 users. That included links to articles, people talking about the topic in their own tweets, and memes or other images.
This spreading of misinformation isn't due to bots, either - Vosoughi and his team used an algorithm to remove all the bots before conducting their analysis. The results were the same.
Subsequently, after consultation with Aral - another of Vosoughi's graduate advisors, who has studied social networks extensively - the three researchers chose to try the approach used in the new study: objectively identifying news stories as true or false, and charting their Twitter trajectories.
Fake news is retweeted by unique users more broadly than real news at every depth within a cascade. They also said the problem is particularly intractable because some research has found that repeating a lie to correct it can actually ingrain false information in the mind.
Falsehoods commonly inspired replies on Twitter expressing surprise, fear and disgust, said the report.
True news, on the other hand, hardly ever reached more than 1,000 people. The truth, on the other hand, inspired greater sadness, anticipation, joy and trust. Politics got the most attention among true and false rumors, they discovered, representing 45,000 of the 126,000 cascades.
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