it the curse of the Internet age: Lies spread farther,
faster, deeper and more broadly than the truth.
the first detailed analysis of how misinformation
spreads through the Twittersphere, researchers at the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that false
news is 70 percent more likely to be retweeted than the
takes the truth about six times as long as a falsehood
to reach 1500 people, they discovered.
blame the bots. Contrary to conventional wisdom, weíre
the ones spreading all the bad stuff, according to the
analysis. Thatís likely because falsehoods are more
novel and click-y than the truth ó and weíre more
likely to share whatís new.
research, published Thursday in the journal Science,
analyzed about 126,000 stories tweeted by about 3
million people. Twitter provided funding and access to
has always been our enemy, since the days when hucksters
sold so-called snake oil from their carts.
social media serves as the currents in which false and
misleading news is swept far and wide.
new analysis offers high-tech proof of that age-old
axiom: "A lie will go round the world while truth
is pulling its boots on."
us, this is one of the most important issues facing
social media today," said Sinan Aral of the Media
Lab of MITís Sloan School of Management, who conducted
the research with Soroush Vosoughi and Deb Roy.
find false news travels far faster further than the
truth in every category of information Ė sometimes by
an order of magnitude," he said. "This has
very important effects on our society, our democracy,
our politicians, our economy."
recent indictment of 13 Russians in the operation of a
"troll farm" that spread false information
related to the 2016 U.S. presidential election has
renewed the spotlight on the power of "fake
news" to influence public opinion ó and focused
attention on the role of social media companies like
Twitter and Facebook to monitor their content.
MIT team analyzed the diffusion of verified true and
false news stories via Twitter between 2006 and 2017.
Although considerable attention has been paid to
anecdotal analyses of the spread of false news by the
media, there havenít been a large empirical study of
the diffusion of misinformation..
stories were designated as true or false based on six
independent fact-checking organizations: snopes.com,
politifact.com, factcheck.org, truthorfiction.com, hoax-slayer.com,
particular, the team looked at the likelihood that a
tweet would create a "cascade" of retweets,
creating patterns of repeated clustered conversations.
the truth rarely diffused to more than 1,000 people, the
top 1 percent of false-news cascades routinely diffused
to between 1,000 and 100,000 people, they found.
the various types of false news, political news was the
most virulent, spreading at three times the rate of
false news about terrorism, natural disasters, science,
urban legends or financial information.
the outspoken student survivors of Floridaís recent
mass shooting mouthpieces of the FBI? Nope. Pawns of
left-wing activist billionaire George Soros? They werenít.
Stooges of the Democratic Party? Not that, either.
these groundless claims spread like wildfire through the
also was a spike in rumors that contained partially true
and partially false information during the Russian
annexation of Crimea in 2014.
rumors have affected stock prices and the motivation for
large-scale investments, the team said. For example,
after a false tweet claimed that former President Barack
Obama was injured in an explosion, the stock market
tumbled, wiping out $130 billion in stock value.
total number of false rumors peaked at the end of both
2013 and 2015 and again at the end of 2016,
corresponding to the last U.S. presidential election,
the study found, when hyper-partisan anxieties run high.
Itís not just a right-wing thing; plenty of
conspiratorially minded posts insist that the real story
of the Trump administration is criminally nefarious.
there a child sex ring at a pizza joint? Nope. Did Pope
Francis endorse Donald Trump? Nope. Did Hilary Clinton
sells weapons to ISIS. She didnít. Former President
Obama didnít ban the pledge of allegiance. President
Trump didnít dispatch his personal plane to save 200
starving Marines. Is Trump about to be arrested? No.
problem runs deep," said Dr. David L. Katz, who was
not involved in the research. "Cyberspace is the
ultimate, ecumenical echo chamber. Everyone can shout
into it, and every shout has the same chance to echo
from the megaphones of the sympathetic. "
can be quite misleading even when not overtly
false," added Katz, founder of the True Health
Initiative, which aims to replace fake health claims and
fad diets with reliable and accurate information.
"The media have a vested interest in constant
titillation, and consistent, reliable information flow
does not serve that agenda."
probe whether Twitter users were more likely to retweet
information that was considered "novel," the
MIT team conducted an additional and rigorous analysis.
data support a "novelty hypothesis," they
concluded. False news that spreads fast is considered
more novel; that novel information is more likely to be
retweeted. In addition, false rumors also inspired
replies expressing greater surprise, fear and disgust
ó emotions that could inspire people to share. The
truth, on the other hand, inspired greater sadness,
anticipation, joy and trust.
is necessary to counteract the phenomenonís negative
influence on society, the authors said.
a related article in the journal Science, a professor
from Indiana University called for a coordinated
investigation into the underlying social, psychological
and technological forces behind fake news.
we want to convey most is that fake news is a real
problem, itís a tough problem, and itís a problem
that requires serious research to solve," said
professor Filippo Menczer of IU School of Informatics,
Computing and Engineering.
tech companies that create the platforms used to produce
and consume information, such as Google, Facebook and
Twitter have an "ethical and social responsibility
transcending market forces" to contribute to
scientific research on fake news, he said.