Why 'False News' Spreads Faster Than Truth

From Drugs.com - March 8, 2018

Why 'False News' Spreads Faster Than Truth

THURSDAY, March 8, 2018 -- Amid growing concerns about the impact of "fake news," a new study finds that false stories take off much faster than truth on Twitter.

The study, of news and rumors shared by 3 million Twitter users, found that false information spreads more quickly and further than accurate information.

Falsities were about 70 percent more likely to be "retweeted" than truth, said the researchers. They were led by Sinan Aral, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), in Cambridge, Mass.

False stories often came from "bots" -- automated accounts that impersonate real users. But it seemed that humans were the main reason that fiction spread faster than fact.

Reports of false information related to the 2016 U.S. presidential election put the spotlight on the power of false news to influence public opinion.

With midterm elections approaching, false news remains a concern.

In this study, "novelty" seemed to be key, Aral's team said.

False stories typically contained something new or surprising -- whereas true stories could get repetitive.

"People are more likely to spread novel information, which favors the spread of falsity over the truth," Aral said in a statement.

And what is the impact of all this fast-moving false information? No one knows yet, said Filippo Menczer, a professor of informatics and computer science at Indiana University Bloomington.

"It's very challenging to study how this actually affects people," Menczer said.

Propaganda and manipulation have existed for a long time, he noted. But the rapid, widespread dissemination of false information via social media is new.

And it's a concern, Menczer said.

He is the co-author of a perspective piece published with the study in the March 9 issue of Science.

For the study, Aral's team analyzed about 126,000 stories tweeted by roughly 3 million Twitter accounts between 2006 and 2017. They included traditional news media stories and also tweets that were spreading rumors or claims.

The researchers verified the accuracy of the stories by consulting fact-checking websites that investigate media information and widely circulating rumors -- like snopes.com and factcheck.org.

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