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
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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.

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why is this issue a cause for concern?
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (97)
  • HaydenD-fitz
    9/27/2018 - 10:28 a.m.

    This issue is a cause for concern for many reasons. For one, many people rely om social media platforms for their news, and it can be difficult to determine whether or not something is fake news when it is all you have been seeing. Another reason is that many young, impressionable teens are on twitter, and when they see absurd news, they are likely to pass it on and spread false information to their peers. This can cause an unrealistically positive or negative view on someone or something. This news can be embellished or completely made up, and spreading it around spreads lies and rumors to the public.

  • KalebY-fitz
    9/27/2018 - 06:46 p.m.

    The reasone I think that this is an issue is ,because anyone can make a lie but it can ruin my reputation it could effect me when I try to find a job because they might the lie and it could effect how they think of me.The way I can support what I am saying is with this,when Donald Trump went for office there where so many fake stories on him to keep him from taking office.

  • LilyI-fitz
    9/28/2018 - 10:46 a.m.

    This issue is a cause for concern because not only can it be damaging to people it can also be damaging to the economy and organizations. People tend to read things and automatically classify them as true without ever double checking or learning more about the topic. This can effect the way people view others and what issues people support and which ones they ignore.
    Social media platforms play a huge role in the distribution of false information, according to the artical, False stories travel way faster then the truth. It also states that “The more strange and sensational the story sounds, the more likely they are going to retweet”. This makes perfect sense because people love to be in the know especially about crazy events, true or false.
    Now that social media is such a relevant topic in every day life it brings up a lot of controversy when false news is distributed on these sites. It seems like this fake news even effects voting and election campaigns which can be damaging to America as a whole.

  • RaphaelS-fitz
    9/29/2018 - 07:13 p.m.

    One way this issue can be a cause for concern is if someone bends the truth about someone or something they did, or outright slanders them, then that can be a big issue because when the glamorized or fake lie comes out, it will be very hard to get the truth out there. If such a case happens, it could affect someone's career or life for the worse. Another instance in which this could be an issue is if someone makes up a fake event. Let's say if someone posts "Large earthquake in Sanfransisco", with a photoshopped image, it won't be hard for people to believe it. What will be hard is for the truth to come out. A reoccurring theme is that the since lies are easier to get out there than the truth than the truth about the lies will be hard to get out. I think that it is so much easier to get sensationalized lies is the same reason the TV news 99 percent of the time is that bad things are alot more interesting than good things, and good things happen alot more than bad in my opinion.

  • RileyS-fitz
    9/30/2018 - 01:31 p.m.

    I think that false news and tweeting are a problem. I think this because, it can be dangerous if false information keeps spreading. I think that one way to solve this issue, is by having a fact check on all news articles or comments posted on social media. If people keep hearing false news and stories, they will start to develop opinions that are not true. That is how stereotypes and bias are started. This is an issue that must be solved.

  • EvelinLG-fitz
    10/01/2018 - 12:50 p.m.

    I think it’s a cause for concern because we suppose we can trust the internet but in reality, it’s not really a trustworthy social media site. Anyone could easily post that a big celebrity died or claim that they saw something they didn’t, and everyone could believe it. The article said true stories aren’t seen by many people as much as false stories, true stories weren’t really seen by 1,000 people but 1% of false stories were seen up to 100,000 people! That’s crazy. I think people should only rely on other sites. Twitter has a different business going on.

  • AidenK-fitz
    10/01/2018 - 03:26 p.m.

    The article is about how social media starts lies. It is also about how social media can can alter things. Social media is like a game of telephone, things start from a truth to a big fat lie. In fact people will start lies to start drama.

  • MayaJ-fitz
    10/01/2018 - 03:58 p.m.

    This issue is a concern because people will get false information and go on with their lives thinking lies about the world are true. If the fake news is political, then people may get the wrong idea about a political candidate, and vote for someone who will do things that don’t go along with their self interests. People go around telling other people lies that they read on social media, and eventually almost everyone will believe lies. False information may cause people to change their opinions or views of other people, like celebrities. Fake news could really mess up the world. If everyone believes a bunch of lies, then that would be bad, because no one would actually know what was going on!

  • EllieG-fitz
    10/01/2018 - 04:01 p.m.

    This issue is a cause for concern because it’s really important to be well informed. False stories are not only giving you wrong information, they could also affect your viewpoint on certain issues, including politics. That can change the way you vote, which could be a huge problem. Not only does false information affect you, but it could also affect others. The more times false stories are shared, the more people are misinformed. This means that if people get their information only from social media, they’re more likely to be misinformed, because according to the article, false stories are usually shared many more times than true stories.

  • EverettS-fitz
    10/01/2018 - 06:05 p.m.

    I think this is a issue we should be concern for because fake news it can be political and any other things that can change peoples opinions. An other concern is that people researched and 126,285 stories were researched and nearly two thirds were it so we need to find more reliable sources. Also fake news came from social media so we need to go and not get our news from social media.

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