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Fake news travels six times faster than the truth on Twitter

Fake news travels six times faster than the truth on Twitter

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology analysed around 126,000 news stories tweeted by 3m people more than 4.5m times between 2006 and 2017.

"The authors are very honest with the interpretation of their results: They can not claim any causality between novelty and endorsement, but they provide convincing evidence that novelty plays an important role in spreading fake information", said Manlio De Domenico, a scientist at the Bruno Kessler Foundation's Center for Information and Communication Technology in Italy who tracked how the Higgs boson rumor spread on Twitter.

The final statistics show that it took "the truth about six times as long as falsehood to reach 1500 people and 20 times as long as falsehood" to "cascade", or spread new information.

While individual tweets about truthful stories only rarely reached an audience of more than 1,000 people, the top one per cent of false news stories routinely reached between 1,000 and 100,000 people.

"We've got a lot of media reports and testimony in front of both houses of Congress talking about how important bots are in the spread of false news", Aral says, but humans are more often the ones sharing and spreading the lies.

"False news is more novel, and people are more likely to share novel information", said Sinan Aral, another member of the team.

"Although bots contribute to the spread of false news, they contribute to the spread of true and false news at approximately the same rate", he says.

The study highlights that fake news is, at its core, a problem with human nature and our worst impulses, giving in to base instincts and confirmation bias. Plus, he added, "people who share novel information are seen as being in the know".

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President Trump also regularly decries what he calls "fake news" in the media - although he and his team have a notoriously hard relationship with the truth.

The researchers said it is possible the same holds true on other social media platforms but said more study was needed. False political stories - researchers didn't separate conservative versus liberal - and stuff that was surprising or anger-provoking spread faster than other types of lies, Aral said. The study is published today in the journal Science.

With the controversy in the media recently about the lack of reliability in news reported on social media networks like Twitter, many have wondered how to determine which influencers to trust.

Another piece of conventional wisdom brought into question by the research is the role of bots in the dissemination of false news.

It was sparked by the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, when Vosoughi realized much of what he was reading on social media amounted to rumors.

Researchers assessed the veracity of the cascades against six fact-checking organisations, including factcheck.org and snopes.org and found a 95pc overlap in judgement across all six bodies. This wasn't because the accounts tweeting false news were particularly influential, but because we're more likely to share the news that seems interesting and new.

A false rumor cascade was more likely to begin with a young, unverified account with a small number of followers. They call for an interdisciplinary research effort that involves various social media platforms, and for society at large to work to create a news ecosystem and culture that values and promotes truth.

Thus, they tested whether or not novel information was more readily retweeted.

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