Published: Tue, March 13, 2018
Markets | By Noel Gibbs

False information travels much faster than the truth on Twitter

False information travels much faster than the truth on Twitter

Responses to false news stories online prompted surprise and disgust, whereas replies to true stories evoked sadness, anticipation, joy and trust.

It also takes true stories about six times as long to reach 1,500 people as it does for false stories to reach the same number of people.

"Contrary to conventional wisdom", the researchers wrote, "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".

"Twitter became our main source of news", explained Dr Vosoughi.

They found that "fake news" sped through Twitter "farther, faster, deeper and more broadly than the truth in all categories of information", according to the study in Thursday's journal Science. To that end, they measured the "information uniqueness" of rumours and discovered that false rumours were more likely to contain new, but wrong, information.

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In addition to false political stories, other popular topics included urban legends, business, terrorism, science, entertainment and natural disasters.

They also want structural changes that aim to prevent the spread of fake news, calling for an interdisciplinary research effort that involves various social media platforms.

"'It seems to be pretty clear [from our study] that false information outperforms true information, ' said Soroush Vosoughi, a data scientist at MIT who has studied fake news since 2013 and who led this study.'And that is not just because of bots". Twitter provided support for the research and granted the MIT team full access to its historical archives. Thus, as Aral puts it, "people who share novel information are seen as being in the know". They deliberately did not use the phrase fake news, and they outsourced claims of veracity to, and four other independent fact-checking organisations.

If it seems like fake news is everywhere, that may be because it is. "Fake news is flawless for spreadability: It's going to be shocking, it's going to be surprising, and it's going to be playing on people's emotions, and that's a recipe for how to spread misinformation", Miriam Metzger, a UC Santa Barbara communications researcher not involved in the study, tells Resnick.

The result? "We saw a different emotional profile for false news and true news", Vosoughi says. They found that the surprise people have when interacting with false information fits in with their theory of novelty fueling this proliferation of pointless propaganda.

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The researchers dug deeper to find out what kind of false information travels faster and farther. True news also reaches and spread slowly than the false news.

"We have witnessed abuse, harassment, troll armies, manipulation through bots and human-co-ordination, misinformation campaigns and increasingly divisive echo chambers", tweeted Twitter co-founder and CEO Jack Dorsey. They said it could be because fake news tends to be "more novel".

Leanne Baker is one of those people who unwittingly retweeted a false story - a post that said the alleged Parkland, Fla., high school shooter had trained with a right-wing militia group.

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.

"Remember that any of us can be manipulated", Menczer said.

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