Study finds fake news spreads 'farther, faster, deeper' than truth

Study finds fake news spreads 'farther, faster, deeper' than truth

Study finds fake news spreads 'farther, faster, deeper' than truth

As for how Twitter users can battle the fake news epidemic, the researchers offer a very simple solution: "Think before you retweet".

The researchers were surprised at how fast falsehoods repeatedly spread compared to true news stories. On average, false information reaches 35 per cent more people than true news.

The problem we are facing, Pennycook said, is that people going through the checkout aisle know the supermarket tabloids aren't hard, vetted news - but on Twitter and Facebook everything looks the same.

"We found that falsehood diffuses significantly farther, faster, deeper, and more broadly than the truth, in all categories of information, and in many cases by an order of magnitude", says Sinan Aral, a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management and co-author of a new paper detailing the findings.

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

As Katie Langin at Science reports, that left them with a set of 126,000 "fake news" stories shared on Twitter 4.5 million times by some 3 million people.

In addition to false political stories, other popular topics included urban legends, business, terrorism, science, entertainment and natural disasters.

It's comforting to image that when faced with outright falsehoods, readers would recognize "fake news" for what it is and stop it in its tracks. He and his co-authors Soroush Vosoughi and Deb Roy at MIT Media Lab found out that the false news stories on Twitter were 70 percent more likely to be retweeted than the true ones.

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Roy, who previously served as Twitter's chief media scientist, says the false news problem is hard to solve. "We refer to any asserted claim made on Twitter as news", they said. Twitter provided support for the research and granted the MIT team full access to its historical archives.

So maybe it's not surprising that with a kernel of juicy - if fake - news in hand, so many people are then inclined to show off that new information and share it online.

The researchers also settled on the term "false news" as their object of study, as distinct from the now-ubiquitous term "fake news", which involves multiple broad meanings.

The MIT study took the 126,285 stories and checked them against six independent fact-checking sites -,,,, and to classify them as true, false or mixed.

But what might come as a surprise was how the number of followers a person had, or the amount of time they spent on Twitter, wasn't enough on its own to explain the difference in the spread of false news versus accurate news. "There is thus a risk that repeating false information, even in a fact-checking context, may increase an individual's likelihood of accepting it as true". But the scholars agree it is important to think about ways to limit the spread of misinformation, and they hope their result will encourage more research on the subject. Unfortunately, that's a lot slower than the speed at which false news spreads. In fact, it seems we like fake news, seek it out and spread it much more quickly than the truth.

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. Whereas the top one percent of false news reached to 100,000 people.

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

For now, Roy says, even well-meaning Twitter users might reflect on a simple idea: "Think before you retweet".

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