Economy

On Twitter, Truths Are Continually Trounced by Falsehoods

On Twitter, Truths Are Continually Trounced by Falsehoods

While this is the largest study of its kind on Twitter, it's much harder to interrogate Facebook data to work out if false news spreads the same way on that platform.

For example, people who are likely to share information, but who are receptive to messages about whether an item is true or false, could act as "nodes of influence" to keep questionable news from spreading. While the truth rarely spread to more than 1,000 people, the most viral falsehoods routinely reached between 1,000 and 100,000 people.

The researchers found bots accelerated the spread of news, but there was little difference in how false or true news spread when bots were removed from the analysis.

"Although we can not claim that novelty causes retweets or that novelty is the only reason why false news is retweeted more often, we do find that false news is more novel and that novel information is more likely to be retweeted", the paper reads.

The researchers posit that the reasoning behind the faster spread of fake news is that these shocking articles tend to elicit reactions such as "fear, disgust, and surprise in replies".

They say it is necessary to understand how fake news spreads and to take countermeasures.

While bots have often been blamed for the spread of inaccurate news, the team found that they're not always behind the swift spread of false news.

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Fil Menczer, an informatics and computer science professor at Indiana University who was not involved in the study, cautioned that we shouldn't underestimate the ability of bots to amplify fake news. In fact, even if you leave aside bots (automated accounts), Twitter users share a lot more falsehoods than they share actual facts, researcher from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) found.

Fake news has, of course, been around in one form or another since the dawn of human history.

Menczer believes that the plethora of online news sources and the algorithms social media platforms and other sites use distinguish cyber fake news from traditional misinformation campaigns.

He said he was unsure whether or not bots would be more prominent if the study had focused exclusively on political news. A new study shows Twitter users are way more likely to hit the retweet button on stories that are outright false. They propagated true and false news roughly equally. One possibility - which hasn't yet been researched - would be to add a labeling system, flagging social media posts that are likely to be false, just as cellphones now identify "scam likely" on some incoming robocalls.

Google, Facebook, Twitter and other key internet players should ramp up their curatorial capacities, write 16 academic researchers in an essay for the same issue of Science. Fake news, he said, isn't always based on the independently-checked veracity of the news itself. In the past year, under increasing pressure from the USA government, tech companies have lurched from policy to policy in an effort to stop fake news from populating their platforms.

Prof Aral, Soroush Vosoughi and associate professor Deb Roy began their research in the aftermath of the Boston marathon bombing in 2013. These effects were more pronounced for false political stories than for any other type of false news.

A false rumor cascade was more likely to begin with a young, unverified account with a small number of followers.


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