A deep dive into Twitter shows that false news was re-tweeted more often than true news was, and carried further. Researchers found that the spread of false information is essentially not due to robots that are programmed to disseminate inaccurate stories.
All told, "falsehoods were 70% more likely to be retweeted than the truth", even though the accounts most responsible for circulating fake stories often had fewer followers, were less active on Twitter and were more often unverified.
The study looked at hundreds of thousands of news stories spread on Twitter between 2006 and 2017.
The study also implicitly rebuts attempts to blame the rise of misleading news on Russian interference.
Aral thinks that relevant success of false news stories on Twitter might have something to do with people's desire to say, and share, things that they find unusual or different. "I realized that ... a good chunk of what I was reading on social media was rumours; it was false news". 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.
Aral and his team were stunned by how much faster fake news stories proliferated through the vast social media network.
As Katie Langin at Science reports, that left them with a set of 126,000 "fake news" stories shared on Twitter 4.5 million times by some 3 million people. "Whereas false stories inspired fear, disgust, and surprise in replies, true stories inspired anticipation, sadness, joy, and trust".
If it seems like fake news is everywhere, that may be because it is.
The bottom-line findings produce a basic question: Why do falsehoods spread more quickly than the truth, on Twitter?
"'How can we create a news ecosystem ... that values and promotes truth?' they ask".
"People are more likely to spread novel information, which favors the spread of falsity over the truth", Aral said in a statement.
The big take away, according to The Atlantic, is that "Falsehoods nearly always beat out the truth on Twitter, penetrating further, faster, and deeper into the social network than accurate information". "There is thus a risk that repeating false information, even in a fact-checking context, may increase an individual's likelihood of accepting it as true".
In a recent study on misinformation on Twitter, it has been found that false news is spreading faster and further than the true news. They found that the surprise people have when interacting with false information fits in with their theory of novelty fueling this proliferation of pointless propaganda.
While the three researchers all think the magnitude of the effect they found is highly significant, their views on its civic implications vary slightly.
"If I'm just reacting on an emotional level and clicking 'retweet, ' then I can become part of the problem", Menczer said. As it turns out, bots aren't the biggest spreaders of toxic, false news.
Moreover, when all of the bots in the dataset was removed, the results suggest that humans have a greater role to play in the dissemination of false news.
Leanne Baker is one of those people who unwittingly retweeted a false story - a post that said the alleged Parkland, Fla., high school shooter had trained with a right-wing militia group.
But there are other factors, he said.
When they looked at who was spreading the wrong stuff, they found it was ordinary users of social media.
In this study, "novelty" seemed to be key, Aral's team said.
In a streamed conversation with users, CEO Jack Dorsey said the company will work hard on the problem.