The spread of true and false news online

Source: Soroush Vosoughi, Deb Roy, Sinan Aral; Science 359, 1146–1151 (2018)

As politicians have implemented a political strategy of labeling news sources that do not support their positions as unreliable or fake news, whereas sources that support their positions are labeled reliable or not fake, the term has lost all connection to the actual veracity of the information presented, rendering it meaningless for use in academic classifcation. … instead use the more objectively verifable terms “true” or “false” news. Even scientific and conspiracy-theory stories can both be either true or false.

The spread of misinformation on social media (Twitter)

According to that study falsehood reached more people at every depth of a tweet cascade than the truth, meaning that many more people retweeted falsehood than they did the truth.

Tweets containing falsehoods reach 1500 people on Twitter six times faster than truthful tweets, the research reveals. (It took the truth about six times as long as falsehood to reach 1500 people.)

Falsehoods were 70% more likely to be retweeted than the truth.

Falsehood diffused significantly farther, faster, deeper, and more broadly than the truth in all categories of information.

The effects were more pronounced for false political news than for false news about terrorism, natural disasters, science, urban legends, or financial information.

New Findings

User characteristics and network structure could not explain the differential diffusion of truth and falsity.

Users who spread false news had significantly fewer followers, followed significantly fewer people, were significantly less active on Twitter, were verified significantly less often, and had been on Twitter for significantly less time. Falsehood diffused farther and faster than the truth despite these differences, not because of them.

False news was more novel than true news, which suggests that people were more likely to share novel information.

False rumors were significantly more novel than the truth displaying significantly higher information uniqueness. But novelty seems not to be the only reason for retweets. False rumors inspired replies expressing greater surprise, corroborating the novelty hypothesis, and greater disgust, whereas the truth inspired replies that expressed greater sadness, anticipation, joy, and trust. The emotions expressed in reply to falsehoods may inspire people to share false news.

Explanation

When information is novel, it is not only surprising, but also more valuable, both from an information theoretic perspective (in that it provides the greatest aid to decision-making) and from a social perspective (in that it conveys social status on one that is “in the know” or has access to unique “inside” information).

False news still spread farther, faster, deeper, and more broadly than the truth in all categories of information because humans, not robots, are more likely to spread it.

Conclusion

False news can drive the misallocation of resources during terror attacks and natural disasters, the misalignment of business investments, and misinformed elections.

 

Leave a Comment