Interestingly enough, data also indicates that computer programs - bots - spread true and false news about equally which suggests humans are primarily to blame for the spread of fake news. Their findings, published this week in Science, explain a lot about how conspiracy theories (as well as misleading and downright incorrect information) drown out hard, clear facts on social media.
Automated bots spread both true and fake stories at the same rate, researchers found, whereas people were more likely to spread untruths.
In one of the largest studies of its kind, MIT researchers examining thousands of fake news stories going back a decade on Twitter have determined that fake news is more likely to spread across the social network than factual information. It also found that real news takes six times as long to reach 1,500 people.
So what advice do these researchers have to fight fake news?
"News can be quite misleading even when not overtly false", added Katz, founder of the True Health Initiative, which aims to replace fake health claims and fad diets with reliable and accurate information.
The researchers also note fake news can extend beyond the political sphere, potentially reaching issues not typically regarded as political, including public health topics, vaccinations, the stock market and nutrition. "Thus, people who share novel information are seen as being in the know", Aral said.
"What we found was scary", says Aral.
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The total number of rumor cascades (true and false news) across the seven most frequent categories.
It seems we love a good lie, but we're not so content with sharing the truth.
"Twitter became our main source of news". Twitter did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Social media companies, especially Facebook, have been under constant fire lately for not doing enough to curb the spread of fake news stories.
"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 and Communication Technology in Italy who tracked how the Higgs boson rumor spread on Twitter.
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Instead, they categorized news as either "true" or "false".
In particular, the team looked at the likelihood that a tweet would create a "cascade" of retweets, creating patterns of repeated clustered conversations.
"In a way, the more engagement Twitter gets, the better it is for their business model". But, of course, Twitter won't do that.
In a related Policy Forum, David Lazer et al. underscore the need to address the prevalence and sway of fake news, which they define as fabricated information that mimics news content in form but not in organizational process or intent.
There has been much debate over the phrase, "because Donald Trump and others have chosen to weaponize it", Lazer acknowledges. It occurred to them that Twitter users who spread false news might have more followers.
And fact-checking can backfire, they noted. The six sites agreed on which reports were true about 95 percent of the time, they said.
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