Published: Fri, March 09, 2018
Sci-tech | By Carrie Guzman

On Twitter, Truths Are Continually Trounced by Falsehoods

On Twitter, Truths Are Continually Trounced by Falsehoods

The work was a collaboration between researchers at MIT's Media Lab and the school's Laboratory for Social Machines (LSM).

Twitter chief executive officer Jack Dorsey said in March that Twitter is developing a mechanism to measure the "health" of conversations on its platform, in response to issues with harassment, abuse, and misuse.

The lead author-Soroush Vosoughi, a data scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge-says after the attack a lot of the stuff he was reading on social media was false. In fact, the team found that humans were chiefly responsible for misinformation being sent to the furthest reaches of the platform.

The reason the study says this happens is that the news is seen as "novel". "We're barely starting to scratch the surface on the scientific evidence about false news, its consequences and its potential solutions", said Sinan Aral, an expert on information diffusion in social networks at MIT and co-author of the study. Around 126,000 news stories that had been tweeted by about 3 million people over 4.5 million tweets were analyzed by the team who used six independent fact-checking organizations (snopes.com, politifact.com, factcheck.org, truthorfiction.com, hoax-slayer.com, and urbanlegends.about.com) to verify the shared information. "That is, rumors are inherently social and involve the sharing of claims between people". They propagated true and false news roughly equally.

The study provides a variety of ways of quantifying this phenomenon: For instance, false news stories are 70 per cent more likely to be retweeted than true stories are.

Overall, fake news stories prompted cascades that went farther, faster, deeper, and more broadly across Twitter than any of those rooted in truth.

The number of minutes it takes for true (green) and false (red) rumor cascades to reach any (E) depth and (F) number of unique Twitter users. "But I didn't expect that there would be a clear difference and that false news would outperform true news across all different metrics we looked at", Vosoughi told Seeker.

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The role of social media in spreading misinformation, propelled by bots or malicious actors, has been heavily scrutinised since the election of US President Donald Trump in 2016.

Falsehoods commonly inspired replies on Twitter expressing surprise, fear and disgust, said the report. Congress and the FBI are investigating evidence that Russian and other foreign users deliberately flooded social media with untrue reports and posts meant to mislead people about political candidates.

Researchers even tried removing "bots" (fake accounts programmed to promote false content) from the findings, and the results remained the same: fake news still spread faster. They found that fake news stories spread faster, reach more people, and become more "embedded" in the social network than true stories.

Additionally, the article's authors point out that false information affects not only the political sphere but also areas not previously regarded as political, such as public health topics like nutrition and vaccinations, as well as the stock market. "The challenge is there are so many vulnerabilities we don't yet understand and so many different pieces that can break or be gamed or manipulated when it comes to fake news", Menczer said. Aral, Roy, and Vosoughi suggest the answer may reside in human psychology: We like new things.

From Russian "bots" to charges of fake news, headlines are awash in stories about dubious information going viral.

A fake news tweet had been sent out from a hijacked Associated Press account. Does this source tend to produce true or fake news?

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