“Fake news” isn’t just an insult used in the president’s tweets, it’s an epidemic that spreads faster than true stories — at least on Twitter, according to a new report.
A study published Thursday by MIT scholars found that false information travels faster on Twitter than real news, and it’s not entirely the fault of bots.
Though these bots may originate the fake stories, it’s real people who are spreading them, according to the study.
Fake news stories are 70 percent more likely to be retweeted than true stories, the researchers found, and it takes true stories six times as long to reach 1,500 people as it does for false stories to reach the same number.
These findings left researchers “somewhere between surprised and stunned,” Deb Roy, co-author of the study and an MIT Media Lab professor, said in a statement.
Researchers tracked about 126,000 “cascades,” or unbroken retweet chains, of news stories spreading on Twitter between 2006 and 2017. These tweet chains were cumulatively tweeted over 4.5 million times by about 3 million people.
The spread of fake news in these was more prominent when it came to politics than business, science, entertainment or other topics.
But why are people sharing false info more often? It may be because it’s human nature to like new things.
“False news is more novel, and people are more likely to share novel information,” said Sinan Aral, a co-author and professor at MIT Sloan, in a statement. Plus, he added, “people who share novel information are seen as being in the know.”
So what advice do these researchers have to fight fake news? It’s pretty simple: “Think before you retweet,” Roy said.