False News On Twitter Spread Faster, Human Plays Major Role Than Bots

Gladys Abbott
March 13, 2018

"I did think that bots were going to be able to explain at least some of the variance in the spread of false news compared to the truth".

A deep dive into Twitter shows that false news was re-tweeted more often than true news was, and carried further.

While fake news was found in every category, from business to sports and science, false political stories, not surprisingly, were the most likely to be retweeted.

In further analysis of the data, the researchers took out information spread by automated social media accounts, or "bots", and found that the findings still stood when these programmed accounts were removed. They are more likely to share novel stories on social media that are emotionally or morally charged, even if they are not verified. Politics got the most attention among true and false rumours, they discovered, representing 45,000 of the 126,000 cascades.

The study, of news and rumors shared by 3 million Twitter users, found that false information spreads more quickly and further than accurate information.

It should come as no surprise that the internet has spawned a resurgence of fake news.

I have not seen conclusive evidence that social media is causing political polarisation. "The central concept of this paper is veracity", Aral said. They also used a broad definition of "news". Indeed, some have argued that the only reason fake news stories have penetrated the national conversation is because bots and nefarious outside actors have tried to push lies on a virtuous public.

Deb Roy, an associate professor of media arts and sciences at the MIT Media Lab and director of the Media Lab's Laboratory for Social Machines (LSM), said: "These findings shed new light on fundamental aspects of our online communication ecosystem".

"Now behavioural interventions become even more important in our fight to stop the spread of false news".

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In the study, Aral started with around 3000 stories which were classified as facts or fiction by some of the fact-checking companies like Snopes, PolitiFact, and FactCheck. This method of cataloguing tweets produced 126,000 true or false cascades involving three million people.

The chart above, delineates recent patterns of true, false and mixed rumors during Presidential news cycles. "Whereas false stories inspired fear, disgust, and surprise in replies, true stories inspired anticipation, sadness, joy, and trust".

The MIT scholars say it is possible that the same phenomenon occurs on other social media platforms, including Facebook, but they emphasize that careful studies are needed on that and other related questions. "Whereas if it were just bots, we would need a technological solution".

They define novelty as information that "is not only surprising, but also more valuable" for making decisions or portraying one's self as an insider who knows things others don't.

Why do people fall for it, whether it's from a bot or a real friend?

"People are more likely to spread novel information, which favors the spread of falsity over the truth", Aral said in a statement.

So why are people seemingly drawn to these false tweets?

"People prefer information that confirms their preexisting attitudes, view information consistent with their preexisting beliefs as more persuasive than dissonant information (confirmation bias), and are inclined to accept information that pleases them", David Lazer of Northeastern University and colleagues wrote in an editorial.

On any given news item, the fact-checking organizations were in agreement between 95 and 98 per cent of the time.

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