Three MIT scholars took it upon themselves to find out why the prevalence of false news is so prominent on social media, specifically Twitter.
The Boston Marathon bombing in 2013 was used as an example of how users were using Twitter for up to the minute updates and the rumor of a second bomber spread rapidly across Twitter and these scholars wanted to know why and how.
“We found that falsehood defuses significantly farther, faster, deeper, and more broadly than the truth, in all categories of information, and in many cases by an order of magnitude,” said Sinan Aral, a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management and co-author.
According to a MIT news release, researchers tracked roughly 126,000 news stories on Twitter, which were tweeted more than 4.5 million times by about 3 million people, from the years 2006 to 2017.
To determine whether stories were true or false, the team used the assessments of six fact-checking organizations, and found that their judgments overlapped more than 95 percent of the time.
Research showed false information spread six times faster than the truth and the false news reaches more people.
Much of the reason why fake news spreads so quickly was broken down into three categories.
- People, it is very easy to choose to retweet, comment or like on an article without doing fact checking yourself. Seeing content from sources you follow and trust wonders why a user would have to do so.
- Linguisitc content ie. people, places, things that actually exist. When content trends similar words are pulled from headlines and body of articles. The more factual information included despite one glaring falsehood, the algorithm will still promote since it can't determine if it is true or false.
- Propagation features such as Twitter's algorithms, these articles know how the algorithm works and how people will react adding in ease of spreading of false information.
The research did conclude that bots did not play a factor in the reach of these articles which has been blamed in the 2016 election meddling which continues to play out.
The truth and false line on social media will continue to be addressed and major social media companies have pledged to continue to investigate and modify their standards and guidelines going forward. No matter bots or not people need to take the necessary steps before they retweet, like or share.
The three MIT scholars released a series of videos talking about their research, you may watch the first installment below with others available on YouTube.