A new study by three MIT scholars has found that false news spreads more rapidly on the social network Twitter than real news does - and by a substantial margin.
They also measured reactions to the various stories, finding that fake stories were "more novel than true news", and that "whereas false stories inspired fear, disgust, and surprise. true stories inspired anticipation, sadness, joy, and trust".
The research project also discovered that humans, not bots, are primarily responsible for spreading misleading information.
By every common metric, falsehood consistently dominates the truth on Twitter, the study finds: Fake news and false rumors reach more people, penetrate deeper into the social network, and spread much faster than accurate stories.
By way of explanation, the researchers concluded that "false news was more novel than true news, which suggests that people were more likely to share novel information".
To conduct the study, the researchers tracked roughly 126,000 cascades of news stories spreading on Twitter, which were cumulatively tweeted over 4.5 million times by about three million people, from the years 2006 to 2017.
Of the 126,000 cascades, politics comprised the biggest news category, with about 45,000, followed by urban legends, business, terrorism, science, entertainment, and natural disasters.
False news spreads far faster and wider on Twitter than the truth, according to a new academic study, which also suggests that people, not bots, are the prime culprits when it comes to the proliferation of misinformation.
Professor Aral, Soroush Vosoughi and associate professor Deb Roy began their research following the Boston marathon bombing in 2013.
The researchers were surprised at how fast falsehoods repeatedly spread compared to true news stories.
"There's two parts to the spread of false news".
News was not limited to mainstream sources, but broadly defined as any "asserted claim" containing text, photos, or links to information that had been evaluated by one of six independent fact-checking groups.
Human instincts may help explain the novelty value of fake news, but surely those notorious Twitter bots make the problem worse.
"Falsehood was significantly more novel than the truth", Aral said.
The findings make depressing reading as politicians around the world grapple with how to educate people about determining fake news and the truth. Almost two-thirds were false, just under one-fifth were true, and the rest were mixed.
"I am not saying that bots are not a problem".
"Now behavioral interventions become even more important in our fight to stop the spread of false news", Aral says. "What I'm saying is that human beings have more responsibility than we may have thought, and that actually changes the way that we would think about solutions". While the bots tweeted false information at a higher rate than humans, it wasn't that much of a difference, and even without bots, lies still spread faster and farther, Roy said. It was real people doing most of it.
In that vein, Aral says, "science needs to have more support, both from industry and government, in order to do more studies".
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