Researchers at MIT say they’ve found that false news travels faster and farther on Twitter than accurate news.
David Royse | LedeTree
The study, published Thursday in Science found that false news reached more people than true news.
“The top 1% of false news cascades diffused to between 1000 and 100,000 people, whereas the truth rarely diffused to more than 1000 people,” the researchers wrote. “Falsehood also diffused faster than the truth.
“When we analyzed the diffusion dynamics of true and false rumors, we found that falsehood diffused significantly farther, faster, deeper, and more broadly than the truth in all categories of information,” the group wrote.
What’s behind that? Likely people tend to share things that are “novel,” or that they haven’t seen – which would include stories that are fake.
“We found that false news was more novel than true news,” wrote the researchers, Soroush Vosoughi, Deb Roy and Sinan Aral, all of MIT’s Media Lab.
The group studied more than 125,000 assertions made on Twitter that were spread about 4.5 million times by about 3 million people.
It wasn’t some algorithm that made falsehoods more viral – it was people being more inclined to share fake information.
“Many more people retweeted falsehood than they did the truth,” the researchers said. “The spread of falsehood was aided by its virality, meaning that falsehood did not simply spread through broadcast dynamics but rather through peer-to-peer diffusion.”
And while bots did spread rumors – we can’t really blame them for favoring falsehoods, the researchers found. Bots were equal opportunity spreaders of news.
“Contrary to conventional wisdom, 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.”
As you might expect, rumors about politics spiked as elections drew nearer, but also during major international events, such as during the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014, the group said.
“Politics was the largest rumor category in our data, with (about) 45,000 cascades, followed by urban legends, business, terrorism, science, entertainment, and natural disasters.”
The group explained that it was avoiding the use of the term “fake news,” because it’s now meaningless.
“Although, at one time, it may have been appropriate to think of fake news as referring to the veracity of a news story, we now believe that this phrase has been irredeemably polarized in our current political and media climate,” they wrote. “As politicians have implemented a political strategy of labeling news sources that do not support their positions as unreliable or fake news, whereas sources that support their positions are labeled reliable or not fake, the term has lost all connection to the actual veracity of the information presented, rendering it meaningless for use in academic classiﬁcation.”