Fake news travels six times faster than the truth on Twitter


So far, Twitter has mostly resisted being "the arbiters of truth", said Nick Pickles, Twitter's head of public policy for the United Kingdom. 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. "On Facebook you have people who are more likely to know one another sharing information, so it is possible the goal of sharing is less to deceive than it would be on Twitter", Lazer adds.

"It's easier to be novel and surprising when you're not bound by reality", coauthor Roy said told Scientific American's Larry Greenemeier.

According to a MIT news release, researchers tracked roughly 126,000 news stories on Twitter, which were tweeted more than 4.5 million times by about 3 million people, from the years 2006 to 2017. These tweets covered 126,000 Twitter cascades of true and false stories, verified by six independent fact-checking organizations. False information was retweeted by more people than the true stuff, and faster to boot.

A rumor cascade begins on Twitter when a user makes an assertion about a topic in a tweet, which could include written text, photos, or links to articles online.

Playing loose with the facts can have serious consequences. 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.

These days it seems as if there's fake news at every turn. And of course, some people have a political motive behind promoting one candidate or trashing another.

Another problem is fact checking requires resurfacing false claims in order to debunk them, and people often remember the false information without recalling the context in which they read it. Although bots did spread fake news, they also shared true news at the same rate.

Bots are so new that we don't have a clear sense of what they're doing and how big of an impact they're making, says Shawn Dorius, a social scientist at Iowa State University in Ames who wasn't involved in the research.

The people most likely to spread false information are not well-respected voices on social media, the study found. Twitter, in particular, is responsible for much of their spread, so it doesn't help that the platform's executives recently dropped the ball, so to speak, on the whole issue. They also said the problem is particularly intractable because some research has found that repeating a lie to correct it can actually ingrain false information in the mind.

"The challenge is there are so many vulnerabilities we don't yet understand and so many different pieces that can break or be gamed or manipulated when it comes to fake news", said Filippo Menczer, a professor at Indiana University - Bloomington, and one of the authors.

The truth and false line on social media will continue to be addressed and major social media companies have pledged to continue to investigate and modify their standards and guidelines going forward.

Another route would be to change the economic incentives that social media offer, Aral says.

When Soroush Vosoughi, a postdoctoral student in MIT's Media Lab, and his colleagues categorized the tweets, they found that politics sparked the largest rumor chains. That leads people to believe they are "in the know".

"Let's not take it as our destiny", said Deb Roy, another of the researchers, "that we have entered into the post-truth world from which we will not emerge".