False news travels much faster than true news

While the spread of false news on social media has always had real world consequences - for example, leading to drops in the stock market - the 2016 US presidential election has emerged as a watershed example of how far and wide that influence can reach.

And you can't blame bots; it's us, say the authors of the largest study of online misinformation.

For the report, they examined 126,000 stories tweeted by about 3 million people more than 4.5 million times.

He said society needs "something that would change the way they interact with social media to be more thoughtful" - a prescription he acknowledged is a tall task.

"Whereas the truth rarely diffused to more than 1,000 people, the top one per cent of false-news cascades routinely diffused to between 1,000 and 100,000 people", the paper says.

Concern over bogus stories online has escalated in recent months because of evidence the Russians spread disinformation on social media during the 2016 presidential campaign to sow discord in the USA and damage Hillary Clinton.

Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) set out to determine how true and false information spread differently across social media, and to what extent human judgment plays a role. Twitter earlier this month said it is seeking help from outside experts to better deal with the problem. "It's far easier to create falsehoods than to debunk them". "Whereas if it were just bots, we would need a technological solution".

The team used six independent fact-checking sources, including Snopes and Urbanlegend, to identify whether the stories in the study were genuine. Almost two-thirds were false, just under one-fifth were true, and the rest were mixed.

Lead author Soroush Vosoughi, an MIT data scientist, said the three false stories that travelled the farthest and fastest were about a Muslim guard called a hero in the Paris bombings of 2015; an Iraq war veteran finishing as runner-up to Caitlyn Jenner for an ESPN courage award; and an episode of "The Simpsons" that had a story line in 2000 about a Trump presidency. He looked at Twitter accounts that mentioned or shared those stories. And falsehoods are retweeted by unique users more broadly than true statements at every depth of cascade.

She also suggested that calling this bogus information "false stories" does not capture how malignant it is. Out of those accounts, nearly 15 percent of the accounts were bots.

Researchers at MIT's Media Lab found fake news stories are '70% more likely to be retweeted than the truth, ' and fixing the problem will take more than banning Twitter 'bots'.

The study was published in the Journal of Science.

Unsurprisingly, political content was the most popular, and researchers noted spikes in the spread of false political rumours during both the 2012 and 2016 US presidential elections.

"Falsehood was significantly more novel than the truth", Aral said.

Psychology Prof Geoffrey Beattie from Edge Hill University in Lancashire, told the BBC there is a position of power associated with being someone who shares information that others have not heard before - regardless of whether or not it is true.

(Copyright © 2015. All Rights Reserved.)
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