On Twitter, the lure of fake news is stronger than the truth

people looking at Twitter on their phones
FACE FACTS Fake news spreads faster and further through the Twittersphere than true stories do.

There’s been a lot of talk about fake news running rampant online, but now there’s data to back up the discussion.

An analysis of more than 4.5 million tweets and retweets posted from 2006 to 2017 indicates that inaccurate news stories spread faster and further on the social media platform than true stories. The research also suggests that people play a bigger role in sharing falsehoods than bots.

These findings, reported in the March 9 Science, could guide strategies for curbing misinformation on social media. Until now, most investigations into the spread of fake news have been anecdotal, says Filippo Menczer, an informatics and computer scientist at Indiana University Bloomington not involved in the work. “We didn’t have a really large-scale, systematic study evaluating the spread of misinformation,” he says.

To study rumormongering trends on Twitter, researchers examined about 126,000 tweet cascades — families of tweets composed of one original tweet and all the retweets born of that original post. All of those cascades centered on one of about 2,400 news stories that had been verified or debunked by at least one fact-checking organization.

S. Vosoughi et al/Science 2018

Deb Roy, a media scientist at MIT, and colleagues investigated how far and fast each cascade spread. Discussions of false stories tended to start from fewer original tweets, but some of those retweet chains then reached tens of thousands of users, while true news stories never…

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