False information travels much faster than the truth on Twitter

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In recent months, the social network has faced withering criticism from USA lawmakers for underestimating the extent of foreign influence on its platform. But we will have to look at the other side of the coin too, not only bots have played a major role in the activity, humans have played an equal role. Although bots do join to the spread of false news, they also have the same impact on truthful news.

While true new stories nearly never got retweeted to 1,000 people, the top 1 percent of the false ones got to as many as 100,000 people. "Thus, people who share novel information are seen as being in the know", Aral said.

The six fact-checking websites agreed with each other on classification at least 95 percent of the time, plus two outside researchers did some independent fact-checking to make sure everything was OK, said co-author Sinan Aral, an MIT management professor.

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. "[False] news spreads farther, faster, deeper, and more broadly than the truth because humans, not robots, are more likely to spread it".

And it wasn't bots spreading most of the falsehoods, they found. A new study finds that false information on the social media network travels six times faster than the truth and reaches far more people. The study published Thursday is more wide-ranging: A team of researchers at MIT tracked falsehoods and truths using a database of every tweet written from 2006 to 2017.

Social media good for democracy?

To objectively separate truth from lies or mistakes, Vosoughi and colleagues used sites devoted to fact-checking: factcheck.org, hoax-slayer.com, politifact.com, snopes.org, truthorfiction.com, and urbanlegends.about.com.

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For instance, the true news-related tweets rarely reached over 1,000 people. Politics got the most attention among true and false rumours, they discovered, representing 45,000 of the 126,000 cascades.

Concern over bogus stories online has escalated in recent months because of evidence that the Russians spread disinformation on social media during the 2016 presidential campaign to sow discord in the US and damage Hillary Clinton. Twitter's general counsel Sean Edgett is pictured here in the middle.

Untrue stories also had more staying power, carrying onto more "cascades", or unbroken re-tweet chains, they found.

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. Speaking to The Atlantic, one of the researchers said "it might have something to do with human nature".

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

Researchers could, for example, do neural imaging to see what's being triggered inside people's brains when they see a viral fake news post to better understand what can be done to help.

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