Fake news 'travels faster', study finds

8 2016. Twitter shed 5.4 percent to hit a new record low of $14.87 after reports over the weekend that the company was planning to change how it display

Fake news travels faster than truth

A new study finds that false information on the social media network travels six times faster than the truth and reaches far more people.

Instead of just focusing on removing bots or better policing networks, Aral says social media companies would be wise to look at ways to change user behavior by giving them more information about the content they encounter.

To understand the mechanism detailed in the journal Science, the team analysed roughly 126,000 stories tweeted by three million people more than 4.5 million times.

All told, "falsehoods were 70% more likely to be retweeted than the truth", even though the accounts most responsible for circulating fake stories often had fewer followers, were less active on Twitter and were more often unverified.

Social media good for democracy?

Twitter funded the study but had no say in the outcome, according to the researchers. In fact, the results showed that it takes true news stories six times as long to reach 1,500 users as false news.

On average, false information reaches 35 per cent more people than true news. Congress and the FBI are investigating evidence that Russian and other foreign users deliberately flooded social media with untrue reports and posts meant to mislead people about political candidates.

Ultimately, readers have the power to decide what gets shared: "If we don't click, the false information doesn't spread". "It's far easier to create falsehoods than to debunk them".

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In a January submission to Congress, Twitter revised a prior disclosure, saying that more than 50,000 thousand Russian-linked bots and 3,800 human operatives were responsible for tweeting content related to the 2016 US election. "We aren't proud of how people have taken advantage of our service, or our inability to address it fast enough".

Read the full text of "The spread of true and false news online" at Science Mag here.

Sinan Aral, along with fellow researchers Deb Roy and Soroush Vosoughi. He looked at Twitter accounts that mentioned or shared those stories. The MIT team characterized a story's truth on a 1-to-5 scale, with 1 being completely false.

Unsurprisingly, political content was the most popular, and researchers noted spikes in the spread of false political rumours during both the 2012 and 2016 US presidential elections.

She also suggested that calling this bogus information "false stories" does not capture how malignant it is. Out of those accounts, nearly 15 percent of the accounts were bots. "[False] news spreads farther, faster, deeper, and more broadly than the truth because humans, not robots, are more likely to spread it". Although bots do join to the spread of false news, they also have the same impact on truthful news. False political stories - researchers didn't separate conservative versus liberal - and stuff that was surprising or anger-provoking spread faster than other types of lies, Aral said. "Thus, people who share novel information are seen as being in the know", Aral said.

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.

They call for more high-quality research into the false news problem and what can be done about it, pointing to reforms in the early 20th century that gave rise to legitimate newspapers with ethics promoting objectivity and credibility out of the ashes of a boisterous yellow press.

"Now behavioral interventions become even more important in our fight to stop the spread of false news", Aral says.

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