Fake News Trav­els Faster Than Truth

Alive - - Misuse -

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.

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