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False news spread “farther, faster, deeper, and more broadly” than true news on Twitter between 2006 and 2017, a team of US scientists has found.

A new major study published in Science magazine shows that it is 70 percent more likely that false news is retweeted compared to accurate information. The survey was made by American researchers and is the largest of its kind.

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The research study is a survey conducted by researchers at the Massachusets Institute of Technology, based on 126,000 twitter entries by three million people between 2006 and 2017.

While recent concern about “fake news” has focused on political stories, Dr. Vosoughi and colleagues also looked at urban legends, business, terrorism, science, entertainment, and natural disasters. They analyzed 126,000 “rumor cascades” — tweets that contained links, comments or images about a story — spread by 3 million people more than 4.5 million times.

The researchers sampled all rumour cascades investigated by six independent fact-checking organizations (snopes.com, politifact.com, factcheck.org, truthorfiction.com, hoax-slayer.com, and urbanlegends.about.com) by parsing the title, body, and verdict (true, false, or mixed) of each rumour investigation reported on their websites and automatically collecting the cascades corresponding to those rumours on Twitter.

The study shows that fake news spread faster than accurate news on Twitter. It is 70 percent more likely that inaccuracies are retweeted than the news that is accurate. False news also spread six times faster than true, and the fastest spread is that of false political news.

It is we humans, rather than preprogrammed bots that prefer to spread false news. The researchers’ explanation is that attention driven behavior screws our selection of new to spread selecting eye-catching news that makes the fake stories more popular to spread.

According to a press release from MIT, Sinan Aral, the David Austin Professor of Management at MIT Sloan and one of the co-authors of the paper noted that the role of humans in spreading false news means that behavioral intervention is required. If it was just bots, then technological solutions would have been required.

“Now behavioral interventions become even more important in our fight to stop the spread of false news,”

“Whereas if it were just bots, we would need a technological solution.”

– Sinan Aral, a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management and co-author of a new paper detailing the findings.

The MIT researchers only studied twitter but think it is probably that the same phenomenon occurs on other social media platforms, including Facebook, but they emphasize that careful studies are needed on that and other related questions.

Reference:

Soroush Vosoughi, Deb Roy, Sinan Aral The spread of true and false news online DOI: 10.1126/science.aap9559