False stories travel way faster than the truth This Oct. 26, 2016 file photo shows a Twitter sign outside of the company's headquarters in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File/Kim Siever/Flickr)
False stories travel way faster than the truth
Lexile

Twitter loves lies. A new study finds that false information on the social media network travels six times faster than the truth and reaches far more people.

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

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology looked at more than 126,000 stories tweeted millions of times between 2006 and the end of 2016. This was before Donald Trump took office but during the combative presidential campaign. They found that "fake news" sped through Twitter "farther, faster, deeper and more broadly than the truth in all categories of information." That's according to the study in Thursday's journal Science.

"No matter how you slice it, falsity wins out,” said co-author Deb Roy, who runs MIT's Laboratory for Social Machines. She is a former chief media scientist at Twitter.

Twitter funded the study but had no say in the outcome, according to the researchers.

The scientists calculated that the average false story takes about 10 hours to reach 1,500 Twitter users, but it takes about 60 hours for the truth to reach Twitter users. On average, false information reaches 35 percent more people than true news.

True news stories almost never got retweeted to 1,000 people. But the top 1 percent of the false ones got to as many as 100,000 people.

Researchers looked at how stories cascade, how they link from one person to another like a family tree. False information reached as many as 24 generations, but true information maxed out at a dozen.

Concern over bogus stories online has escalated in recent months due to evidence the Russians spread disinformation on social media during the 2016 presidential campaign. 

Social media companies have experimented with using computer algorithms and human fact-checkers to try to weed out false information and abuse online. Twitter earlier this month said it is seeking help from outside experts to better deal with the problem and Facebook this week announced a partnership with The Associated Press to identify and debunk false and misleading stories about the midterm elections.

"We have witnessed abuse, harassment, troll armies, manipulation through bots and human-coordination, misinformation campaigns and increasingly divisive echo chambers,” a tweet by Twitter co-founder and CEO Jack Dorsey read. "We aren't proud of how people have taken advantage of our service, or our inability to address it fast enough."

The MIT study took the 126,285 stories and checked them against six independent fact-checking sites. These sites included snopes.com, politifact.com, factcheck.org, truthorfiction.com, hoax-slayer.com and urbanlegends.about.com. They used the sites to classify stories as true, false or mixed. Nearly two-thirds were false, just under one-fifth were true and the rest were mixed.

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.

Lead author Soroush Vosoughi, an MIT data scientist, said there were three false stories that traveled the farthest and fastest. They 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. (It was in 2015.)

University of Pennsylvania communications professor Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a co-founder of factcheck.org, had problems with the way the study looked at true and false stories. The MIT team characterized a story's truth on a 1-to-5 scale, with 1 being completely false. Factcheck.org, Jamieson said, looks more at context and does not label something either true or false.

She also suggested that calling this bogus information "false stories" does not capture how malignant it is. She said it would "better be called viral deception."

The researchers looked at obvious bots — automated accounts — and took them out. 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.

David Lazer, a political and computer scientist at Northeastern University wasn't part of the study but wrote an accompanying report. He praised the MIT research but said the scientists may have missed a lot of bots and cyborgs — sort of in-between humans. His ongoing, not-yet-published research has found that about 80 percent of false stories come from just one-tenth of 1 percent of users.

The researchers dug deeper to find out what kind of false information travels faster and farther. False political stories — researchers didn't separate conservative versus liberal — and stuff that was surprising or anger-provoking spread faster than other types of lies, Aral said.

"Falsehood was significantly more novel than the truth," Aral said. "It's easy to be novel when you make things up."

That fits perfectly with previous research on the psychology of fake information, said Yale University's Dan Kahan and Dartmouth College's Brendan Nyhan, scientists who study the phenomenon.

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

Nyhan and Lazer said that while more fact-checking and education of people on how to tell fake from real can be helpful, the more effective solution will have to come from the social media platforms themselves.

Filed Under:  
Assigned 108 times
CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why is this issue a cause for concern?
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (10)
  • ChrisianJ-dec
    3/23/2018 - 01:11 p.m.

    This is a cause for concern because we rely on information all throughout the day.Also most people love to go on social media and rely on that information even though it could not be true.You can find proof of this in the article when it said that out of 126,285 stories and two thirds of them were fakes. That is why I think this is a cause for concern.

  • BritneyJ-smi
    4/04/2018 - 10:26 a.m.

    This issue is a cause of concern because ´´Under one-fifth was true the rest was mixed´´(MIT). With that quote we never know what is really happening in the world and we don´t know whats true. ¨True news stories almost never got retweeted to 1,000 people. But the top 1 percent of the false ones got to as many as 100,000 people¨(Borenstein). This quote shows that what we read may not be real and we may be causing as much trouble as the bots. Thats why I beleive this is a cause of concern.

  • MichaylaG-smi
    4/04/2018 - 10:29 a.m.

    This issue is a cause for concern because, fake news is getting spread through twitter faster than real news. "While the bots tweeted false information at a higher rate than humans, it wasn't that much of a difference,even without bots, lies still spread faster and farther," Roy said. "The more strange and more sensational the story sounds, the more likely they are going to retweet," Kahan said. This issue is a big problem for people who want to hear the truth and not fake news.

  • TimK-smi
    4/04/2018 - 10:29 a.m.

    This is issue is a concern due to the fact that people can spread false information fast. Take into example a election people from other places can spreed false information about an election. This has happened before the "Russians spread disinformation on social media during the 2016 presidential campaign"(tweentribune.com). This means that it could affect the outcome of an election. They could use this information to have someone come into power they want. On average false story takes about 10 hours to reach 1,500 Twitter users, but it takes about 60 hours for the truth to reach Twitter users(tweentribuen.com). This is why this is a concern.

  • NoahR-smi1
    4/04/2018 - 10:30 a.m.

    This is a cause for concern because most of the people today rely on information. Most people today like to be on social media and get information even if that information is not true. In this article it stated that out of 126,285 stories and two thirds of them were fakes.

  • KatieB-smi2
    4/04/2018 - 10:30 a.m.

    This issue is a cause for concern because if fake news spreads it can be hard to get the right message out to everybody. If it takes 10 hours for a false story to reach 1500 people then imagine how many people could read that false information in a week. This false information can lead to bullying or harassment online. Fake news is a big issue because everybody wants the correct story or message to be spread.

  • LilZ-smi
    4/04/2018 - 10:33 a.m.

    This issue is a cause for concern because lies travel faster than the truth. Lies reach far more people and it shouldn't be that way. Research proves it. Lies can get out of hand. They can make people violent. They can make a person have a deep passion of hatred toward other people. This issue needs to be put to an end. Its not just paparazzi who lie and make up things,its everyday people too. People will make up things about a coworker,or a schoolmate,or a family member,or even people they don't even know. The lies can travel to a person in seconds. The lies have to stop. This is why this issue is a concern.

  • AlexJ-smi3
    4/04/2018 - 10:33 a.m.

    The issue with false information is that is spreads faster then the true information and the bots and cyborgs are putting most of the false information on the internet.The text states on average false information reaches 35 percent more people than true information.People also rely on information but most of the time the information is false.

  • JordanB-smi2
    4/04/2018 - 10:39 a.m.

    This issue is a cause for concern because many people throughout the world use social media to get their news. If the news we see on social media is false, the readers will think false things about other individuals such as the "fake news" in Donald Trump's presidential campaign. And in the article the authors of the largest study of online misinformation state, "And you can't blame bots. It's us."

  • AbbyD-smi
    4/04/2018 - 10:42 a.m.

    This is a cause for concern as Twitter accounts are spreading lies and those lies are being spread faster than the truth. This article tells us how 126,285 stories and two thirds of them are false, those false stories are being spread around more and faster than the real ones not most people check if the story they're reading is fake or not so how do you know if you're reading a false story. Also what happens if it's a story about a person that supposedly is doing hurtful things to kids and people, and it's false. That false story could ruin his career, his ability to find a new job.So that is why to me this is a cause for a concern.

Take the Quiz Leave a comment
ADVERTISEMENT