Okay, that headline is a complete fabrication. A lie. Some people will read it and be delighted or disgusted, even sharing it on social media without realising I am making all this up.
So, Today I (actually) Discovered just how instrumental Twitter has become in spreading fake news, thanks to new research out of MIT.
The concern over the rise of ‘fake news’ and its implications in the social, political and economic spaces is only now beginning to be fully understood.
Fake news became a staple of the US political race – and still dominates the conversation around a certain political figure today. As the way we consume information changes rapidly, we’re struggling to keep up with the various ways in which we validate or invalidate what we read and see in the news.
Taking 12 years of data from Twitter, the research team of Soroush Vosoughi, Deb Roy and Sinan Aral at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, compiled over 126,000 instances of news items shared about 4.5 million times.
The data is revealing: Those tweets that were relaying true news stories would rarely be shared by 1000 Twitter users, but false news stories were routinely reaching 10,000 people. Quite a huge disparity.
It seems we love a good lie, but we’re not so content with sharing the truth. Why would that be?
When the characteristics of Twitter users and the platform itself couldn’t explain away why fake news was spreading more rapidly, the research team turned their attention to the idea that false news was more novel – that is, it hadn’t been seen on Twitter before. In their explanation, “when information is novel, it is not only surprising, but also more valuable, both from an information theoretic perspective and from a social perspective.”
Thus, they tested whether or not novel information was more readily retweeted.
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.
Somewhat surprisingly, the phenomena was not more readily propagated by ‘bots’. In fact, the team found that humans were chiefly responsible for misinformation being sent to the furthest reaches of the platform. It didn’t matter how many followers those people had – the outlandish claims were generally the ones that were flicked around the platform with reckless abandon.
Now, more than ever, it’s important to double check and fact check the things that you read on the internet – especially on social media, and ensure that the mountain of information you are devouring every single day comes from verified sources. As a column that I write every day, I routinely read or see interesting stories that I think are absolutely bonkers, only to find out with a little more research that their bonkers because they are entirely untrue.
The scientists have called for more research into the behavioural explanations for spreading misinformation and fake news. 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.
So don’t fret… the little birdy isn’t getting turned upside down.