MIT study finds fake news travels faster

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They concluded that falsehoods spread "farther, faster, deeper, and more broadly than the truth in all categories of information".

To determine whether stories were true or false, the team used the assessments of six fact-checking organizations (factcheck.org, hoax-slayer.com, politifact.com, snopes.org, truthorfiction.com, and urbanlegends.about.com), and found that their judgments overlapped more than 95 percent of the time. True news also reaches and spread slowly than the false news. "Thus, people who share novel information are seen as being in the know", Aral said.

The big take away, according to The Atlantic, is that "Falsehoods nearly always beat out the truth on Twitter, penetrating further, faster, and deeper into the social network than accurate information".

It might be because false statements sound more surprising, they said.

Concern over bogus stories online has escalated in recent months because of evidence the Russians spread disinformation on social media during the 2016 presidential campaign to sow discord in the US and damage Hillary Clinton.

It's a must-read story about "the grim conclusions of the largest-ever study of fake news", reported in The Atlantic magazine by Robinson Meyer.

"When we removed all of the bots in our dataset, [the] differences between the spread of false and true news stood,"says Soroush Vosoughi, a co-author of the new paper and a postdoc at LSM whose PhD research helped give rise to the current study".

"Falsehoods were 70 per cent more likely to be retweeted than the truth", the authors wrote", even when controlling for the account age, activity level and number of followers and followees of the original tweeter".

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"False news is more novel, and people are more likely to share novel information", says Aral, who is the David Austin Professor of Management.

The MIT researchers tracked 126,000 stories that had been shared 4.5 million times by about three million people, classifying them as true or false with the support of six independent fact-checking organisations.

The relationship allowed the MIT researchers something that few academics have: access to Twitter's raw data firehose, a historical archive of every tweet ever made, including those that have been deleted.

When they looked at who was spreading the wrong stuff, they found it was ordinary users of social media.

"It is really challenging to get access to enough data that is comprehensive enough that we can say things conclusively", says Elizabeth Dubois, an assistant professor at the University of Ottawa who has studied the presence of political bots in Canada. Aral says the result is "very scary" in civic terms, while Roy is a bit more sanguine.

"Contrary to conventional wisdom", the researchers wrote, "robots accelerated the spread of true and false news at the same rate, implying that false news spreads more than the truth because humans, not robots, are more likely to spread it".

The spread of false stories was more pronounced for political news than for news in the other categories.

Nyhan and Lazer said that while more fact-checking and education of people on how to tell fake from real can be helpful, the more effective solution will have to come from the social media platforms themselves. The study authors hypothesised that falsehoods contain more novelty than truth.