Why false news spreads faster on social media

March 09 16:07 2018

They found that fake news stories spread faster, reach more people, and become more “embedded” in the social network than true stories.

The full study has been published online in the journal Science.

With access to Twitter’s historical archives, the researchers tracked 126,000 cascades of news stories tweeted more than 4.5 million times by some 3 million people from 2006 to 2017. It also cites an analysis that found the average American likely encountered one to three fake news stories in the month before the 2016 US election. It took 60 hours for a verified story to reach the same amount of people.

Seeing their own findings also led the researchers to question why this phenomenon was taking place, and they suggested the answer could be a trait of human psychology – the fact that we like new things – and that false news often contains novel information.

Compared with people who spread true news, those who spread false news were newer to Twitter, had fewer followers, followed fewer people and were less active with the social media platform.

One compelling reason for the discrepancy is that fake news is typically juicier and more interesting than the truth.

“What we want to convey most is that fake news is a real problem, it’s a tough problem, and it’s a problem that requires serious research to solve”, said co-author Filippo Menczer, a professor at Indiana University’s School of Informatics, Computing and Engineering. That’s arguably manipulation at its finest, and we even teach others how to do it.

Some of these sites are readily available for everyday use which include factcheck.org, hoax-slayer.com, politifact.com, snopes.org, truthorfiction.com, and urbanlegends.about.com.

“We are looking to outside experts to help us identify how we measure the health of the public conversation on Twitter“.

Fake news spreads more rapidly than real news – at least on Twitter.

“It’s easier to be novel and surprising when you’re not bound by reality”, coauthor Roy said told Scientific American’s Larry Greenemeier.

The study analyzed the sentiment expressed by users in replies to claims posted on Twitter. Contrary to conventional wisdom, we’re the ones spreading all the bad stuff, according to the analysis. False stories showed responses including fear, disgust and surprise. “People who share novel information are seen as being in the know”. But I would argue that people have much more of an issue not knowing they’re being manipulated than with the manipulation itself. The more factual information included despite one glaring falsehood, the algorithm will still promote since it can’t determine if it is true or false. Facebook declined to comment for this article. But of course Twitter won’t do that. “But at the end of the day you’re going to have to find a way to work with Facebook”.

Baum and Lazer are part of a team that co-authored a separate article in Science this week about the impact of false and misleading information spread online, and potential ways to intervene against it.

The MIT researchers pointed to factors that contribute to the appeal of false news. “We share those concerns, but also realize any term describing this problem could be similarly weaponized”. Such emotions may shed light on what inspires people to share false stories. They found that their judgments matched with facts about 95 percent of the time. If a Twitter user had linked to a fact-checking organization’s web page, either to support or debunk a spreading rumor, the game was afoot.

Humans on Twitter are the ones spreading fake news not bots a study claims

Why false news spreads faster on social media
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