Are human instincts leading us to fake news?

Scott Olson  GettyAn anti Trump protester references the president’s love of the phrase ‘Fake news

"Even before the internet and social media, people would spread gossip around the water cooler or barbecue", Vosoughi said. Previous research tracked rumours after specific events, like the false information that swirled around the Boston Marathon bombing.

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology looked at more than 126,000 stories tweeted millions of times between 2006 and the end of 2016 - before Donald Trump took office but during the combative presidential campaign.

An MIT researcher hopes his study of fake news will encourage other scholars to take a closer look at why humans seem hard-wired to spread false news online and seek out ways to nudge people toward the truth.

Falsehoods spread like wildfire on social media, getting quicker and longer-lasting pickup than the truth, researchers reported on Thursday.

In the study, Aral started with around 3000 stories which were classified as facts or fiction by some of the fact-checking companies like Snopes, PolitiFact, and FactCheck.

"If you think of this study as what the problem is, I think the next step is to clearly think about what we can do about it", he said.

And fact-checking can backfire, they noted.

Status, Aral said. "People who share novel information are seen as being in the know", he said.

Fakenews
Are human instincts leading us to fake news?

"The more odd and more sensational the story sounds, the more likely they are going to retweet", Kahan said. This method of cataloguing tweets produced 126,000 true or false cascades involving three million people.

Among the numerous findings, they discovered that true stories were rarely seen by more than 1,000 people whereas the top 1% of false stories routinely reached between 1,000 and 100,000 people, with political stories more likely to go viral than any other kind of false information.

A single account was responsible for starting 4,700 false rumours.

"So they can't be the sole reason as to why false information seems to be spreading so much faster". False information spread significantly further and faster than the truth across all categories of information, the researchers found. They noticed another important fact that even those accounts had fewer followers and less active, they had a lot of impact on those twitter impressions. The study authors hypothesised that falsehoods contain more novelty than truth.

"We found that false news was more novel than true news, which suggests that people were more likely to share novel information".

In assessing the emotional content of tweets, researchers found that false stories inspired fear, disgust and surprise in replies, whereas true stories inspired anticipation, sadness, joy and trust.

"The authors are very honest with the interpretation of their results: They can not claim any causality between novelty and endorsement, but they provide convincing evidence that novelty plays an important role in spreading fake information", said Manlio De Domenico, a scientist at the Bruno Kessler Foundation's Center for Information Technology in Italy who tracked how the Higgs boson rumour spread on Twitter.

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