There is a proliferation of fake news on mainstream and social media because of the tendency of people to repeat something that is wrong quicker than something that is true. Fake news not only spreads like wildfire on social media, it also has quicker and longer-lasting pickup than the truth, Euronews reported.
Researchers found that false news was re-tweeted more often than true news and carried further on microblogging site Twitter. The team found that it took the real news six times as long as fake news to reach 1,500 people.
More pronounced for political news
Sinan Aral, from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, observed that while falsehood was diffused significantly farther, faster, deeper, and more broadly than the truth in all categories of information, the effects were more pronounced for false political news. It was less pronounced for fake news about terrorism, natural disasters, science, urban legends, or financial information.
The sources of fake news were mostly real and ordinary people. They were not bots but were even verified people. However, most of them did not have many followers.
Aral explained the faster spread of fake news to false statements sounding more surprising. These said statements are more novel than true news, suggesting that people are more likely to share novel information.
The resurgence of fake news comes at a time when Congress and the FBI are investigating evidence that Russians and some foreign users flooded social media deliberately with fake reports and posts that aimed to mislead people about certain political candidates.
Unfortunately, some politicians twist the meaning of fake news by referring to real news that they disagree with as fake news. It was the reason why instead of using fake news, Aral’s team used false news. Any claim made on Twitter, they referred to as news.
Twitter as main source of news
Soroush Vosoughi, a PhD candidate at MIT, initiated the research after it struck him that false news spread rapidly after the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings that killed three people and injured 264 others.
He recalled at that time, Twitter was the main source of news. But he realized that the bulk of news he was reading on social media were rumors only. Vosoughi and his team utilized six fact-checking websites to objectively separate truth from lies and mistakes. The portals they used were factcheck.org, hoax-slayer.com, politicalfact.com, snopes.org, truthorfiction.com, and urbanlegends.about.com. He pointed out that about 95 percent of the time, the six portals agreed on which reports were true.
The findings of the study, published in the latest issue of Science journal, underscored an ongoing critique of Twitter that the microblogging site is doing more harm than good as a hotbed of fake news and propaganda, PC review noted.
For the study, the researchers analyzed 126,000 stories tweeted by about 3 million people more than 4.5 million times. The discovered that 70 percent of the times, the false news stories were more likely to be retweeted than the true stories.
Role of human behavior
They found that untrue stories had more staying power, carried more cascades, or unbroken re-tweet chains. The researchers concluded that human behavior contributed more to the differential spread of falsity and truth than automated robots do.
The reach of true news-related tweets rarely reached more than 1,000 people. But the top 1 percent of news that contained false news was routinely spread between 1,000 and 100,000 people. Fake political news easily became viral and reached more than 20,000 people faster than other categories of false news.
One reason why people share novel information is that they are seen as being in the know. He added that people are more likely to share novel information and repeat it because it seems to affirm their beliefs.
David Lazer, from the Northeastern University, in an editorial, wrote that people prefer information that confirms their preexisting attitudes. They view information that is consistent with their preexisting beliefs as more persuasive than dissonant information. They are inclined to accept information which pleases them.
The team noted that fact-checking can backfire because it might even be counterproductive under certain circumstances. Even in a fact-checking context, there is a risk of repeating false information and boost the likelihood that a person may accept it as true.
But Filippo Mencze, from Indiana University, also pointed to bots as sources of false news. He estimated that 60 million bots post automatic updates on Facebook and up to 48 million on Twitter. The researchers used a computer algorithm to strip out suspected fake account from their research data. However, even without the algorithm, the overall findings remained the same.
Since it was human behavior that contributed more to the spread of false news, Twitter will have to go beyond cracking down on bots. For the study, Twitter supported the researchers by providing the funding and access to the archived tweets.
[researchpaper 리서치페이퍼=Vittorio Hernandez 기자]