Research finds fake news travels fast


Don't blame the bots.

Science today published the largest-ever longitudinal study of the spread of false news online.

"False news is more novel, and people are more likely to share novel information", Aral said.

An analysis of more than 4.5 million tweets and retweets from 2006 through 2017 shows that inaccurate news stories spread faster - and further - on Twitter than true stories. But a bigger problem may be people trying to make a buck in a social media advertising ecosystem that rewards stories for attracting the most eyeballs, says study co-author Deb Roy, LSM's director. If you can scare, gross out or shock, people are more likely to pass your information along. "News, on the other hand, is an assertion with claims, whether it is shared or not".

Another piece of conventional wisdom brought into question by the research is the role of bots in the dissemination of false news.

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The stories examined in the study were reviewed by six independent fact-checking organisations including Snopes and Politifact to assess their veracity. And in general, "false news stories are 70 percent more likely to be retweeted than true stories are".

Of the types of false news the researchers studied, political news was by far the most virulent.

In a study of 5,000 users, they looked at a random sample of tweets each user may have seen in the 60 days prior to retweeting a rumor. This wasn't because the accounts tweeting false news were particularly influential, but because we're more likely to share the news that seems interesting and new.

Similarly, the researchers identified common themes in the phrasing of replies to false rumors - users more frequently expressed words associated with disgust and surprise when they commented on untruths.

Although the effect of fake news stories on Twitter was most pronounced for political topics, the trend held true for most any topic - driving home the fact that fake news inherently has the potential to influence in a variety of sectors, perhaps due to the reactions it causes in its viewers.

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Fake news spreads more widely and quickly on Twitter than the truth, a study has confirmed, with humans at fault for sharing false information rather than bots.

The issue also includes "The science of fake news", an overview by a veritable Who's Who of academics who study this stuff (deep breath: David Lazer, Matthew Baum, Yochai Benkler, Adam Berinsky, Kelly Greenhill, Filippo Menczer, Miriam Metzger, Brendan Nyhan, Gordon Pennycook, David Rothschild, Michael Schudson, Steven Sloman, Cass Sunstein, Emily Thorson, Duncan Watts, Jonathan Zittrain). It also includes a separate Policy Forum article co-authored by Filippo Menczer, a professor in the Indiana University School of Informatics, Computing, and Engineering.

President Trump also regularly decries what he calls "fake news" in the media - although he and his team have a notoriously hard relationship with the truth.

Aral says much more research is needed to develop appropriate strategies for reining in fake news. In the a year ago, 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.

"There are real world and potentially negative consequences if decisions are going to be made based off falsity", said Aral.

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