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False News Spreads Faster Than Real News On Twitter: Study

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A new study finds that false news travels faster on Twitter compared to real news. Further, false or fake news was found to be 70 percent more likely to be retweeted than real news, and bots aren't to blame.

False News Alert

Ever wondered how false news makes its way all over the internet? In an age where it's getting harder to distinguish real from false news especially over social media, the researchers of a new study found that, unfortunately, false news travels significantly faster than real news does, and bots aren't even the culprit.

As it turns out, although they probably don't know it, humans do much of the work in spreading false news, something the researchers were stunned to learn. This, according to researchers, is perhaps a result of the humans' liking for new information.

Spreading False News

In order to gather their findings, researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) tracked about 126,000 cascades of stories on Twitter that were tweeted by 3 million people 4.5 million times between the years 2006 and 2017. They did so with the help of Twitter, which supported the research and gave the team full access to its historical archives.

News stories were determined to be either false or real with the help of assessments by six fact-checking organizations. Of the stories, politics, urban legends, business, and terrorism were the most followed categories, with politics at the top of the list and with the most pronounced spread of false news.

Incredibly, the researchers found that false news stories were 70 percent more likely to be retweeted than real news stories and that it takes six times longer for real stories to reach 1,500 people than false stories, which spread rather rapidly.

Furthermore, the team found that bots are not actually to blame for the rapid spread of false news. In fact, they even found that bots tend to spread both false and real news at the same rate, whereas humans spread false news at a much faster rate.

'Think Before You Retweet'

The researchers surmise that perhaps the reason as to why people inadvertently spread false news is due to their love of novelty or new things and information and being the first to share them. Simply put, it is possible that the idea of having new information encourages information sharing and conveys a social perspective of an individual as being "in the know."

Although researchers do not claim that it is only novelty that causes false news to be retweeted more often, they do state that novel information gets retweeted more frequently and that false news is often novel in nature.

The findings could possibly help tech companies in their battle against the spread of false news. For now, coauthor of the study Deb Roy is giving Twitter users a simple advice: "Think before you retweet."

The study is published in the journal Science.

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