Published: Sat, March 10, 2018
Economy | By Shawn Conner

On Twitter, More Fake News Than Facts Shared By Humans, Not Bots

On Twitter, More Fake News Than Facts Shared By Humans, Not Bots

For example, it took truth six times as long as a falsehood to reach 1,500 people. The news that ultimately spread to the most people concerned politics, urban legends and science.

Falsehoods commonly inspired replies on Twitter expressing surprise, fear and disgust, said the report. They found that false news is 70 percent more likely to be retweeted than real news stories. In January, the Republican Party handed out "Fake News Awards". True stories showed responses including anticipation, sadness, joy and trust. As Menczer and his colleagues point out in their commentary, topics of concern to the public, such as vaccinations and nutrition, are susceptible to fake news, too.

The ability to investigate more platforms is crucial to understanding the scope of social media's false-news problem.

"A new system of safeguards is needed", they wrote. It is hard to know for sure, because Twitter is one of the few platforms that shares the relevant data with the public.

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While Twitter has certainly expedited the transfer of information, it's also a den of lies where truth is continually overshadowed by the allure of falsehoods, according to a new study published in Science from researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

"Twitter became our main source of news", Mr Vosoughi said.

Researchers assessed the veracity of the cascades against six fact-checking organisations, including factcheck.org and snopes.org and found a 95pc overlap in judgement across all six bodies. They found that their judgments matched with facts about 95 percent of the time. The team took a look at data dating all the way back to 2006 when Twitter began, and followed trends all the way through 2017 - finding that fake news spread far more quickly than those that were assessed as truthful, and that the reach of these fake stories extended farther as well.

"False news is more novel and people are more likely to share novel information", Aral said. These tweet chains were cumulatively tweeted over 4.5 million times by about 3 million people.

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The role of social media in spreading misinformation, propelled by bots or malicious actors, has been heavily scrutinised since the election of US President Donald Trump in 2016. "We hope our work inspires more large-scale research into the causes and consequences of the spread of false news as well as its potential cures".

Why retweet that post before you know whether it's actually true?

"Facebook is clearly the 800-pound gorilla in this conversation, but they have been much less transparent than Twitter", says Matthew Baum, a professor of global communications at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government.

That fits perfectly with previous research on the psychology of fake information, said Yale University's Dan Kahan and Dartmouth College's Brendan Nyhan, scientists who study the phenomenon.

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Why do people fall for it, whether it's from a bot or a real friend?

"False news is more novel, and people are more likely to share novel information", Aral added, explaining why people tend to share more false news. Plus, people like to repeat information that seems to affirm their beliefs. Sure enough, when the researchers checked how novel a tweet was (by comparing it, statistically, with other tweets) they found false tweets were significantly more novel than the true ones.

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