March 22, 2018

Fake news spreads further, faster on social media

12 March 2018, 09:26 | Opal Carroll

Image used for representational purpose only

Image used for representational purpose only

In a recent study on misinformation on Twitter, it has been found that false news is spreading faster and further than the true news. True news takes six times longer to reach to 1500 people compared to false news.

The researchers dug deeper to find out what kind of false information travels faster and farther.

The study started with PhD research by MIT's Soroush Vosoughi, who was struck by the false reports that spread rapidly after the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, in which three people were killed and 264 injured.

"We found that falsehood defuses significantly farther, faster, deeper, and more broadly than the truth, in all categories of information, and in many cases by an order of magnitude", says Sinan Aral, one of the study's co-authors and a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management, in a release.

By way of explanation, the researchers concluded that "false news was more novel than true news, which suggests that people were more likely to share novel information".

The study was covering three million accounts and 4.5 million tweets which were tweeted between the year 2006 to 2017.

In addition to false political stories, other popular topics included urban legends, business, terrorism, science, entertainment and natural disasters. "I realized that ... a good chunk of what I was reading on social media was rumours; it was false news".

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Deb Roy, an associate professor of media arts and sciences at the MIT Media Lab and director of the Media Lab's Laboratory for Social Machines (LSM), said: "These findings shed new light on fundamental aspects of our online communication ecosystem".

In assessing the emotional content of tweets, researchers found that false stories inspired fear, disgust and surprise in replies, whereas true stories inspired anticipation, sadness, joy and trust.

It might be because false statements sound more surprising, they said. "There is thus a risk that repeating false information, even in a fact-checking context, may increase an individual's likelihood of accepting it as true".

Status, Aral said. "People who share novel information are seen as being in the know", he said. Fake political news was especially viral; it reached over 20,000 people faster than what other false news categories could do. Twitter provided support for the research and granted the MIT team full access to its historical archives. Almost two-thirds were false, just under one-fifth were true, and the rest were mixed.

"If you think of this study as what the problem is, I think the next step is to clearly think about what we can do about it", he said. But we will have to look at the other side of the coin too, not only bots have played a major role in the activity, humans have played an equal role.

"Now behavioral interventions become even more important in our fight to stop the spread of false news", Aral says.

Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology also found that fake news was more commonly re-tweeted by humans than bots. It was real people doing most of it.

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