Are Human Instincts Leading Us To Fake News?

Cheryl Sanders
March 12, 2018

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

Subsequently, after consultation with Aral - another of Vosoughi's graduate advisors, who has studied social networks extensively - the three researchers made a decision to try the approach used in the new study: objectively identifying news stories as true or false, and charting their Twitter trajectories.

She added that the researches were "somewhere between surprised and stunned" at the different trajectories of true and false news on Twitter.

"We found that false news was more novel than true news, which suggests that people were more likely to share novel information", they wrote. The researchers also conclude that the problem is not automated bots or ill-intentioned hackers, but the emotion-clouded minds of everyday users.

Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology also found that fake news was more commonly re-tweeted by humans than bots.

"False news is more novel, and people are more likely to share novel information". "People who share novel information are seen as being in the know". When they looked deeper into the study, they found out even the participation of those bots were 15 percent; it was more od real people accounts shared those false news. "What I'm saying is that human beings have more responsibility than we may have thought, and that actually changes the way that we would think about solutions".

Researchers looked at 126,000 stories on Twitter, tweeted by around 3.5 million users more than 4.5 million times between 2006 and 2017.

"Twitter became our main source of news", explained Dr Vosoughi. On the other hand, humans seem to have an inclination for sharing false news rather than facts.

According the biggest study to date into fake news, the truth takes six times longer to be seen by 1,500 people on Twitter than misinformation.

"No matter how you slice it, falsity wins out", said co-author Deb Roy, who runs MIT's Laboratory for Social Machines and is a former chief media scientist at Twitter. The stories were designated as true or false based on six independent fact-checking organisations.

Overall, falsehoods were 70% more likely to be retweeted than the truth.

The paper, "The Spread of True and False News Online", is published today in Science.

When it comes to Twitter's "cascades", or unbroken retweet chains, falsehoods reach a cascade depth of 10 about 20 times faster than facts.

"The more odd and more sensational the story sounds, the more likely they are going to retweet", Kahan said. Twitter provided support for the research and granted the MIT team full access to its historical archives.

"The spreaders of fake news are using increasingly sophisticated methods", Menczer said in a statement.

"It is really challenging to get access to enough data that is comprehensive enough that we can say things conclusively", says Elizabeth Dubois, an assistant professor at the University of Ottawa who has studied the presence of political bots in Canada.

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