Why 'False News' Spreads Faster Than Truth

Fake news spreads faster than true news on Twitter—thanks to people, not bots

Twitter earlier this month said it is seeking help from outside experts to better deal with the problem.

"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", Aral added.

Previous research has found that someone who shares novel information gains social status, because they seem to have inside information, Aral says.

Roy said he is used to seeing messy data results when doing research.

These contested news stories were tweeted by three million people over 4.5 million times. To do this, they used six independent fact-checking organizations whose classifications showed a strong agreement. In fact, truthful cascades rarely made it out to more than 1,000 users. There are so many sources of information today from hard copy newspapers to social media.

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Playing loose with the facts can have serious consequences.

President Obama was not injured in a White House explosion in April 2013. The tweet is believed to have caused US$130 billion to have been wiped from the stock market before an AP representative reported that their account had been hacked. They found that fake news about all kinds of topics travels farther and faster than news that is accurate, but false political news spreads particularly far and wide.

Unsurprisingly, political content was the most popular, and researchers noted spikes in the spread of false political rumours during both the 2012 and 2016 US presidential elections.

Is it actually changing people's minds? And of course, some people have a political motive behind promoting one candidate or trashing another.

The researchers posit that the reasoning behind the faster spread of fake news is that these shocking articles tend to elicit reactions such as "fear, disgust, and surprise in replies". People are just less interested in the truth, apparently, as those types of stories never reached beyond a depth of 10.

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If it seems like false news stories spread faster and farther than factual ones, you're not imagining things. Fake stories were shared more widely and swiftly than the truth, with false information 70 per cent more likely to be retweeted. "But I think the degree is going to depend on how we deal with the governance issues of information in the 21st century", he says.

While the study focused on Twitter, the researchers said their findings likely also would apply to other social media platforms including Facebook. Almost two-thirds were false, just under one-fifth were true, and the rest were mixed.

The MIT scholars say it is possible that the same phenomenon occurs on other social media platforms, including Facebook, but they emphasise that careful studies are needed on that and other related questions. A recent study of the browsing histories of thousands of US adults in the months before the 2016 election found that false news accounted for only a small portion of the total news people consumed.

Twitter, for its part, recently announced a program to solicit ideas from the public about how it can "increase the collective health, openness, and civility of public conversation around the world, and to hold ourselves publicly accountable toward progress".

"If someone makes up a rumor that goes against what they expected, you are more likely to pass it forward".

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Although bots certainly play a role in disseminating completely phony news - including the fictitious story that Hillary Clinton ran a sex-trafficking ring in the basement of a pizza shop - bots weren't responsible for the dramatic disparity between retweets of false versus real news.

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