On Twitter, false news travels faster than true stories, study finds

Fake news travels faster than truth

They call for a new drive of interdisciplinary research 'to reduce the spread of fake news and to address the underlying pathologies it has revealed'.

Meyer writes, "The massive new study analyzes every major contested news story in English across the span of Twitter's existence-some 126,000 stories, tweeted by 3 million users, over more than 10 years-and finds that the truth simply can not compete with hoax and rumor".

The scientists calculated that the average false story takes about 10 hours to reach 1,500 Twitter users, versus about 60 hours for the truth. Although bots do join to the spread of false news, they also have the same impact on truthful news.

The study, highlighted this week in The Atlantic, surveyed the spread of 126,000 news stories, including both true accounts and false "rumor cascades", on Twitter between September 2006 and December 2016.

"False news is more novel, and people are more likely to share novel information", Aral said.

Other popular topics included urban legends, business, terrorism, science, entertainment and natural disasters. A new study finds that false information on the social media network travels six times faster than the truth and reaches far more people. Prof Aral, Soroush Vosoughi and associate professor Deb Roy began their research in the aftermath of the Boston marathon bombing in 2013. He compared on some of the facts how often and widely false stories were shared in against true news.

The bottom-line findings produce a basic question: Why do falsehoods spread more quickly than the truth, on Twitter?

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. Thus, as Aral puts it, "people who share novel information are seen as being in the know". Twitter provided support for the research and granted the MIT team full access to its historical archives. Researchers could, for example, do neural imaging to see what's being triggered inside people's brains when they see a viral fake news post to better understand what can be done to help.

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.

"I am not saying that bots are not a problem". 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.

Other researchers say that the lack of access to this data - not only from Twitter, but other platforms such as Facebook - is the biggest impediment to doing more of this kind of work.

"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.

He said society needs "something that would change the way they interact with social media to be more thoughtful" - a prescription he acknowledged is a tall task.



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