Large-Scale Scientific Investigation Needed to Combat Fake News, Say Researchers

But a bigger problem may be people trying to make a buck in a social media advertising ecosystem that rewards stories for attracting the most eyeballs, says study co-author Deb Roy, LSM's director. By measuring the "cascade" of tweets, the number of retweets a particular tweet spawned, they could see its reach and the rate at which both types of stories unravelled.

It's real people - not bots - who are mainly responsible for passing on fake information, Aral says.

"I was somewhat surprised to see bots didn't play a starring role", Roy said. An analysis of the words in the tweets suggested that false news instilled fear, disgust and surprise, whereas true news was more likely to arouse feelings including sadness, joy and trust.

The research demonstrated that fake news is more novel than the truth and that this novelty was indeed more likely to be retweeted - but added a caveat that novelty itself is not generally the reasoning behind sharing or spreading fake news.

It takes the truth about six times as long as a falsehood to reach 1500 people, they discovered. With the amount of fake news being spread increasing, it's important to understand how it may be combated as it has shown to be damaging to economies, businesses and people. "We're barely starting to scratch the surface on the scientific evidence about false news, its consequences and its potential solutions", said Sinan Aral, an expert on information diffusion in social networks at MIT and co-author of the study. MIT Researchers found the average false story takes about ten hours to reach 1,500 users.

The results were published Thursday in the journal Science. Twitter, however, remained a breeding pool for false information.

That's when Vosoughi realized that "these rumors aren't just fun things on Twitter, they really can have effects on people's lives and hurt them really badly".

The bottom-line findings produce a basic question: Why do falsehoods spread more quickly than the truth, on Twitter?

The researchers, from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, found that those patterns applied to every subject they studied, not only politics and urban legends, but also business, science and technology. It facilitates the rapid spread of news - whether a story is completely bogus or real.

Large-Scale Scientific Investigation Needed to Combat Fake News, Say Researchers

While the political repercussions of fake news are quite obvious, the phenomenon has affected various other discussions.

The researchers found bots accelerated the spread of news, but there was little difference in how false or true news spread when bots were removed from the analysis.

Humans are far more at fault than bots for spreading fake news on social media, according to a new study. It occurred to them that Twitter users who spread false news might have more followers.

The study authors said automated Twitter accounts, or bots, were not to blame for the faster spread of false rumors. One might intuitively think false news spreads because it's coming from Twitter users with more followers, or from verified, influential users.

"The more unusual and more sensational the story sounds, the more likely they are going to retweet", Kahan said.

A tweet can wreak havoc in a few hundred characters, as demonstrated in April 2013 when someone hacked the Associated Press Twitter account and claimed that explosions at the White House had injured President Barack Obama.

"I find it disturbing", said Aral, who said he has been studying the impact of social media on society for more than 10 years.

But Menczer said that to truly address the problem, he believes the sites should work with academic researchers, and not just use their own in-house researchers.

  • Salvatore Jensen