False news spreads widely and easily

Fake news spreads 'farther, faster, deeper' than truth, new study finds

The truth, conversely, hardly ever spread to more than 1,000 people. Some of their retweet chains, however, managed to reach tens of thousands of users while true news stories never spread beyond more than about 1,600 people. Many blamed "bots" - computerized accounts - for the rapid proliferation.

Twitter has increasingly become a platform for organizations and people to share news, but a lot of the news being retweeted is actually fake.

Researchers trawled through a 10-year period of Twitter's history, analysing more than 126,000 stories shared by 3 million users some 4.5 million times to gather the information.

"I realized that ... a good chunk of what I was reading on social media was rumours; it was false news".

Roy said the study results reminded him of the often-cited quotation that essentially says a lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth can get its boots - or trousers - on.

Findings from a new study conducted by researchers at MIT show false news gets disseminated much more quickly than real news, especially when it comes to social media platforms like Twitter. "This has very important effects on our society, our democracy, our politicians, our economy".

The spread of false stories was more pronounced for political news than for news in the other categories.

Researchers assessed the veracity of the cascades against six fact-checking organisations, including factcheck.org and snopes.org and found a 95pc overlap in judgement across all six bodies.

And accurate tweets were rarely passed along more than about 1,000 times, while whoppers were retweeted as many as 100,000 times. They weren't. Stooges of the Democratic Party?

There also was a spike in rumors that contained partially true and partially false information during the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014. The tweet is believed to have caused US$130 billion to have been wiped from the stock market before an AP representative reported that their account had been hacked. Many people fail to take a step back and look at the reliability of the sources, instead taking things at face value and spreading misinformation across social media. In the meantime, you might want to close Twitter if you're hunting for objective reflections of reality. Nope. Did Hilary Clinton sells weapons to ISIS.

But data scientist Soroush Vosoughi, who led the MIT study, acknowledged there will be no easy solution. "Cyberspace is the ultimate, ecumenical echo chamber".

When the researchers used an algorithm to weed out tweets likely posted and circulated by bots, both false and true news continued to circulate at the same rates. "The media have a vested interest in constant titillation, and consistent, reliable information flow does not serve that agenda".

False information travels significantly faster on Twitter because people retweet it.

"And on social networks, people can gain attention by being the first to share previously unknown (but possibly false) information". Examining this "novelty hypothesis", the team found that "people respond to false news more with surprise and disgust", whereas true stories produced replies more generally characterised by sadness, anticipation, and trust.

This is necessary to counteract the phenomenon's negative influence on society, the authors said. In an article accompanying the Science study Thursday, Menczer joined 15 other prominent academics calling for greater research into the spread of misinformation online.

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