What’s been conventional wisdom is now being confirmed by scientific studies: Lies spread faster than the truth.
In an effort to quantify and measure our fervor and passion for sensationalized falsehoods, three MIT researchers, Soroush Vosoughi, Deb Roy, and Sinan Aral, analysed more than 125,000 stories that were tweeted more than 4.5 million times from 2006 to 2017. About 3 million people participated in spreading these stories.
In the report, titled “The spread of true and false news online,” published in the journal, Science, researchers wrote the following.
“There is worldwide concern over false news and the possibility that it can influence political, economic, and social well-being.”
MIT researchers classified news as true or false using information from six fact-checking organizations. Falsehoods, apparently, spread like wildfire. In particular, Twitter users are more inclined to share fake political news, than, for example, fake news about terrorism, science, or natural disasters.
It takes factual news six times as long as fake news to reach 1,500 people, and 20 times as long as fake news to reach a cascade depth of 10, MIT researchers wrote.
In January, Twitter published a blog post detailing Russia-linked bot activity on the social media platform. During the time period Twitter investigated bot activity, over 175,000 Twitter messages were sent out by bots. Only 8.4 percent of them, however, were election-related. In total, 50,000 automated bot accounts were found to be connected to Russian bot and troll farms.
The Mueller investigation, which is meant to investigate the alleged Trump-Russia connection, recently entered a new chapter. The Special Counsel indicted 13 Russian citizens, who are thought to be connected to an infamous St. Petersburg-based bot farm and disinformation operation, called the Internet Research Agency. As Tech Crunch reported at the time, the Russians face multiple charges, including one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States.
The MIT findings contradict the popular opinion that it is indeed bots, Russian bots for that matter, that are the main reason so many social media users are exposed to fake news on a daily basis. Apparently, it is not the bots to blame, it’s us. Real Twitter users are the driving force behind the spread of fake news.
Initially, the researchers ran the analysis after removing all the bot accounts. However, once they added them back, nothing changed. The overall conclusion remained the same.
“When we added bot traffic back into the analysis, we found that none of our main conclusions changed — false news still spread farther, faster, deeper, and more broadly than the truth in all categories of information.”
Why does fake news spread so fast? Because it fulfills our desire for novelty, MIT researchers claim. We are simply more likely to share novel information. Novelty, they wrote, encourages information sharing, updates our understanding of the world, and attracts attention.