Saturday, 23 June, 2018

Twitter study finds false stories travel way faster than the truth

Fake news spreads faster than true news on Twitter—thanks to people, not bots False News Travels Farther, Faster Than The Truth, MIT Study Finds
Doris Mccormick | 09 March, 2018, 14:38

A new study by three MIT scholars has found that false news spreads more rapidly on the social network Twitter than real news does - and by a substantial margin. Roy adds that the researchers were "somewhere between surprised and stunned" at the different trajectories of true and false news on Twitter.

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. Twitter, however, remained a breeding pool for false information. "We have to be very careful about making the inference that fake news has a big impact", said Duncan Watts, a principal researcher at Microsoft Research.

According to experts at MIT, a false-news tweet is 70% more likely to be retweeted than a true story. They examined around 126,000 stories that had been tweeted out by some 3 million people globally. And falsehoods are retweeted by unique users more broadly than true statements at every depth of cascade.

The results of the study are quite startling.

The genesis of the research was the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings. Subsequently, Vosoughi and Roy - Vosoughi's graduate advisor at the time - chose to pivot Vosoughi's PhD focus to develop a model that could predict the veracity of rumors on Twitter. Researchers say it's humans spreading the bogus stories. They relied on six fact-checking organizations to determine whether a story was true or false.

If it seems like fake news is everywhere, that may be because it is.

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The bottom-line findings produce a basic question: Why do falsehoods spread more quickly than the truth, on Twitter? True news inspired more anticipation, sadness and joy, depending on the nature of the stories.

Users who spread false news had significantly fewer followers, followed fewer people, were less active on Twitter, were "verified" less often, and had been on Twitter for less time than users who spread accurate news. The study authors hypothesized that falsehoods contain more novelty than truth. Others, of course, are false and far more pernicious, such as conspiracy theories about the Parkland high school shooting in Florida.

Although bots certainly play a role in disseminating completely phony news - including the fictitious story that Hillary Clinton ran a sex-trafficking ring in the basement of a pizza shop - bots weren't responsible for the dramatic disparity between retweets of false versus real news. He then looked at Twitter accounts that had mentioned or shared these stories, and compared how often and widely false stories were shared in comparison with truthful news. How many people did they interview? Interestingly, humans are to blame for the spread of these falsehoods-not Twitter bots.

As we learn more about how and why false news spreads, we should test interventions to dampen its diffusion. "Although the inclusion of bots, as measured by the two state-of-the-art bot-detection algorithms we used in our analysis, accelerated the spread of both true and false news, it affected their spread roughly equally", the paper reads.

So why does false news spread so fast? And Roy says the findings may help create "measurements or indicators that could become benchmarks" for social networks, advertisers, and other parties.

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. "If something sounds insane stupid you wouldn't think it would get that much traction", says Alex Kasprak, a fact-checking journalist at Snopes in Pasadena, California.

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