Since the U.S election in 2016, the rise and coverage of fake news have been a reoccurring theme. In a recent study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, false news was 70 percent more likely to spread on the social network Twitter.
Among the findings from MIT, the analysis confirmed the sharing of false news over the actual real news was driven more by people than bots (algorithms in social media and automated messages).
According to Reuters, the MIT Lab went to great lengths and analyzed 126,000 stories shared by more than 3 million users on Twitter. The timeline covered under this survey was from 2006 to 2017. From the data collected, the retweeting of false news was more common than people sharing the news that was true.
“Twitter and other social media companies such as Facebook have been under scrutiny by U.S. lawmakers and international regulators for doing too little to prevent the spread of false content. U.S. officials have accused Russia of using social media to try to sow discord in the United States and interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.”
The task of analyzing what constituted true or false news stories had the assistance of fact-checking organizations. Among these included Snopes, Politifact, FactCheck.org, and others.
Fake news travels faster than real news on Twitter. How much faster? “It took the truth about six times as long as falsehood to reach 1,500 people.” https://t.co/GiQloGwAJH— Ezra Klein (@ezraklein) March 8, 2018
The phenomenon of false political news stories did not start with the last election. As reported by MIT, fake news stories were also identified with an increasing presence in the 2012 election as well. The scope of the study goes further to reveal the presence of bots. These automated accounts share equally true and false stories. However, people are more responsible for the spread of false news.
On Twitter, fake news spreads faster & further than real news - study. Also, compared with people who spread true news, those who spread false news were "newer to Twitter, had fewer followers, followed fewer people and were less active." https://t.co/HGjCy4QeDy pic.twitter.com/BD8L8XYVaP— Andrew Stroehlein (@astroehlein) March 9, 2018
Does this mean the spread of false news is unique only to Twitter? The answer is no. The researchers said the findings are very much applicable to other social media platforms. They included and mentioned Facebook.
As reported by Statista, fake news, post-truth, and alternative facts have been associated with the 2016 presidential election. In addition, the number of high profile people involved in these false stories coincides with the election.
“Hoax stories, such as Hillary Clinton selling weapons to ISIS and Pope Francis endorsing Trump for President were liked and commented upon hundreds of thousands of times on Facebook, with many consumers not being able to tell whether the headlines were real or not.”
The study of how information flows online has been happening for some time now. Furthermore, smaller studies have been conducted around how real and fake news reports propagate across social networking channels. As the validity of the examination, the New York Times reports that experts in network analysis said the study was large in scale and well designed.
“The comprehensiveness is important here, spanning the entire history of Twitter,” said Jon Kleinberg, a computer scientist at Cornell University. “And this study shines a spotlight on the open question of the success of false information online.”