New study lays bare the frightening reality of fake news on Twitter

10 March, 2018, 00:43 | Author: Terri Saunders
  • USA-MEDIA

For the study, published in the journal Science, the researchers tracked roughly 126,000 cascades of news stories spreading on Twitter, which were cumulatively tweeted over 4.5 million times by about 3 million people, from the years 2006 to 2017.

Fake news is 70 percent more likely to be retweeted than real news.

Humans are far more at fault than bots for spreading fake news on social media, according to a new study.

It may come as no surprise in the era of "fake news", but false political stories were by far the most contagious falsehoods on the social media platform, easily outpacing false news about terrorism, science, natural disasters or urban legends.

Surprisingly, the study also separated tweets by bots and by actual people, and found that bots tended to spread real and fake news equally.

After removing the bots from their data, "the differences between the spread of false and true news stood", said Soroush Vosoughi, a coauthor and postdoctoral researcher at the university. The MIT researchers termed inaccurate news "false" as opposed to "fake", because "fake news" is a term that involves multiple broad meanings. "Deceptive bots create the impression that there is a grassroots, positive, sustained human support for a certain candidate, cause, policy or idea", the New Democrat Network said.

The concern over the rise of "fake news" and its implications in the social, political and economic spaces is only now beginning to be fully understood.

"The spreaders of fake news are using increasingly sophisticated methods", Menczer said in a statement.

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"False political news reached more than 20,000 people almost three times faster than all other types of false news reached 10,000 people", the study said.

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).

Falsehoods spread like wildfire on social media, getting quicker and longer-lasting pickup than the truth, researchers reported on Thursday. Adjusting for automated accounts didn't change the frequency with which false news completely dominated the ecosystem.

While the researchers suggested false news was shared more often because of its novelty, Dr Vosoughi said more work is needed about the motivations of people who share this content and its impact. The scientists then verified the nature of the information based on six independent fact-checking organizations like Snopes, PolitiFact, and FactCheck, who had to be in virtual agreement on the bogus "facts".

Tweets containing false news were typically retweeted by "many more people" than tweets containing true news.

At an individual level, Aral says people need to be more skeptical about what they pass on. It is hard to know for sure, because Twitter is one of the few platforms that shares the relevant data with the public.

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.

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