The researchers, working out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, found that 126,000 verifiably false stories were spread by roughly three million people.
The chart above, delineates recent patterns of true, false and mixed rumors during Presidential cycles. The top 1% of false information cascades routinely spread to between 1,000 and 100,000 people, whereas the truth rarely spread to more than 1,000 people.
The researchers dug deeper to find out what kind of false information travels faster and farther.
Falsified news stories were 70 percent more likely to be retweeted than true ones; true stories also took about six times as long to reach 1,500 people.
The study was covering three million accounts and 4.5 million tweets which were tweeted between the year 2006 to 2017.
Of the 126,000 cascades, politics comprised the biggest news category, with about 45,000, followed by urban legends, business, terrorism, science, entertainment, and natural disasters.
The spread of false stories was more pronounced for political news than for news in the other categories.
Professor Aral, Soroush Vosoughi and associate professor Deb Roy began their research following the Boston marathon bombing in 2013. He compared on some of the facts how often and widely false stories were shared in against true news. On the other hand, humans seem to have an inclination for sharing false news rather than facts. “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”.
“Twitter became our main source of news”.
“People want to share information that is newsworthy – in some sense the truth value is less of a concern”, he said. They concluded that falsehoods spread “farther, faster, deeper, and more broadly than the truth in all categories of information”. True news also reaches and spread slowly than the false news.
So while the researchers “cannot claim that novelty causes retweets” by itself, as they state in the paper, the surprise people register when they see false news fits with the idea that the novelty of falsehoods may be an important part of their propagation.
“I am not saying that bots are not a problem”.
“We have witnessed abuse, harassment, troll armies, manipulation through bots and human-co-ordination, misinformation campaigns and increasingly divisive echo chambers”, tweeted Twitter co-founder and CEO Jack Dorsey. While the bots tweeted false information at a higher rate than humans, it wasn’t that much of a difference, and even without bots, lies still spread faster and farther, Roy said.
Vosoughi, for his part, suggests that if some people are deliberately spreading false news while others are doing so unwittingly, then the phenomenon is a two-part problem that may require multiple tactics in response.
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.
Why retweet that post before you know whether it’s actually true?