A new study has found that false information travels six times faster than the truth and reaches more people on Twitter than true stories. The study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) published on Thursday is one of the most comprehensive to date on how fake news circulates on social media.
"No matter how you slice it, falsity wins out," said co-author Deb Roy, head of MIT's Laboratory for Social Machines.
The report, published in the journal Science, studied more than 126,000 stories that were tweeted millions of times in the decade between 2006 and the end of 2016. To determine if stories were true or false, they relied on six independent fact-checking organizations.
The researchers concluded that the average fake news story spread to 1,500 users in 10 hours. It took 60 hours for a verified story to reach the same amount of people. On average, the false stories reached about 35 percent more people.
Indeed, real news almost never got 1,000 retweets — but the top 1 percent of fake stories got as many as 100,000. Overall, fake news was 70 percent more likely to be retweeted.
'It goes against people's expectations'
Lead author Soroush Vosoughi said the three incorrect stories that got the most traction included one about an Iraq war veteran being a runner-up to Caitlyn Jenner for an ESPN courage award. Another was about a Muslim security guard being a "hero" during the 2015 Paris attacks; yet another that an episode of The Simpsons had predicted the Trump presidency in 2000.
"One reason false news might be more surprising is, it goes against people's expectations of the world," Vosoughi said in an interview. "If someone makes up a rumor that goes against what they expected, you are more likely to pass it forward."
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Although the research focused on Twitter, the paper's authors said their findings would likely also apply to Facebook.
The way that false information can spread so rapidly has become a matter of grave concern due to evidence that Russian trolling operations used social media to promote the candidacy of President Donald Trump and disparage his rival, Hillary Clinton. It has also been implicated in the spread of misinformation ahead of the UK's referendum on leaving the European Union.
es/rc (AP, Reuters)