Fake News Travels Faster Than Truth
Yes, it is true. Fake news travels faster than truth. What if the scourge of false news on the Internet isn’t the result of Russian operatives or partisan zealots or computer-controlled bots? What if the main problem is us?
People are the principal culprits, according to a new study examining the flow of stories on Twitter. And people, the study’s authors also say, prefer false news travels faster, farther and deeper through the social network than true stories.
The researchers from the US Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) found that those patterns applied to every subject they studied, not only politics and urban legends, but also business, science and technology. False claims were 70 per cent more likely than the truth to be shared on Twitter. True stories were rarely retweeted by more than 1,000 people, but the top 1 per cent of false stories was routinely shared by 1,000 to 100,000 people. And it took true stories about six times as long as false ones to reach 1,500 people.
Software robots can accelerate the spread of false stories. But the MIT researchers, using software to identify and weed out bots, found that with or without the bots, the results were essentially the same. “It’s sort of disheartening at first to realize how much we humans are responsible,” said Dr Sinan Aral, a professor at MIT Sloan School of Management and author of the study. “It’s not really the robots that are to blame.”
The research, published in Science magazine, examined true and false news stories posted on Twitter from the social network’s founding in 2008 through 2017. The study’s authors tracked 1, 26,000 stories tweeted by roughly 3 million people more than 4.5 million times. “News” and “stories” were defined broadly as claims of fact regardless of the source. And the study explicitly avoided the term “fake news”, which, the authors write, has become “irredeemably polarised in our current political and media climate.”
The stories were classified as true or false, using information from 6 independent fact-checking organisations including ‘Snopes’, ‘PolitiFact’ and ‘FactCheck.org’. To ensure that their analysis held up in general not just on claims, the researchers enlisted students to annotate as true or false more than 13,000 other stories that circulated on Twitter. Again, a tilt toward falsehood was clear.