Massachusetts Institute of Technology research studied 126,000 fake Twitter ‘stories’.
A famous quote often attributed to Mark Twain is the one that goes “a lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes”. Twain apparently wrote that in 1919. His death almost a decade earlier in 1910 however, makes that attribution something of a sticking point. But now scientists have proved the meaning behind the message is true, even if its not quite clear who wrote it.
Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology studying 126,000 fake stories spread on Twitter over a period of 11 years, found that they travelled faster and reached more people, than the truth.
The analysis of news stories tweeted by three million people between 2006 and 2017 cross checked the tweets against a database of stories fact-checked by six independent organizations, including Snopes, Politifact and Factcheck.
Co-author of the study, Professor Sinan Aral, said that “What we found was scary. False news travels farther, faster, deeper and more broadly than the truth in every category of information – many times by an order of magnitude. “False news is more novel, and people are more likely to share novel information,” said Aral.
Unsurprisingly, the most common subject matter resided with false political news. Conversely however, the study found that stores that were later proved to have been made up or bore no relevance whatsoever to what actually happened, were shared more by real people, than bots.
Aral concluded that people shared this information for a variety of reasons, but strong emotional reactions were key, including surprise and outrage, motivating people to share fake news “…people can gain attention by being the first to share previously unknown – but possibly false – information. They are seen as being ‘in the know'”.