MIT Researchers: 'Lies Spread Faster Than Truth'

Laverne Higgins
March 12, 2018

"Now behavioural interventions become even more important in our fight to stop the spread of false news".

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

"Falsehood diffused significantly farther, faster, deeper, and more broadly than the truth in all categories of information, and the effects were more pronounced for false political news than for false news about terrorism, natural disasters, science, urban legends, or financial information".

"The authors are very honest with the interpretation of their results: They can not claim any causality between novelty and endorsement, but they provide convincing evidence that novelty plays an important role in spreading fake information", said Manlio De Domenico, a scientist at the Bruno Kessler Foundation's Center for Information Technology in Italy who tracked how the Higgs boson rumour spread on Twitter.

Fake news spreads more rapidly on Twitter than real news does - and by a substantial margin, three scholars at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have found.

"It took the truth about six times as long as falsehood to reach 1,500 people". On average, false information reaches 35 percent more people than true news.

A graphic visualization of false (orange) and true (green) rumor cascades spreading on Twitter. 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. Twitter earlier this month said it is seeking help from outside experts to better deal with the problem. Others, of course, are false and far more pernicious, such as conspiracy theories about the Parkland high school shooting in Florida. 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. "We aren't proud of how people have taken advantage of our service, or our inability to address it fast enough".

The team used six independent fact-checking sources, including Snopes and Urbanlegend, to identify whether the stories in the study were genuine. He looked at Twitter accounts that mentioned or shared those stories.

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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.

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

The study was conducted by researchers at MIT, and published on Thursday in the journal Science.

The researchers dug deeper to find out what kind of false information travels faster and farther.

The findings make depressing reading as politicians around the world grapple with how to educate people about determining fake news and the truth. "The central concept of this paper is veracity", 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.

"The more unusual and more sensational the story sounds, the more likely they are going to retweet", Kahan said.

They said it could be because fake news tends to be "more novel".

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