A new study by three Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) scholars has found that false news spreads more rapidly on the social network Twitter than real news does and by a substantial margin.
A recent documentary on Netflix brought to light again the secretive nature of how these social media giants operate, and how manipulation of users is the driving business model for most of these services. Titled “The Social Dilemma”, it referred to a 2018 study done by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the United States.
The study, which was then published in Science magazine becomes pertinent again as the role of social media in influencing elections, and misinformation surrounding the ongoing pandemic comes to light.
When the study had come out, a co-author of the study, Sinan Aral told CNN that they were “very surprised by the results”. Who wouldn’t be surprised to find out that a majority of the news they absorb is actually fake!
"I find it disturbing," Aral told CNN.
Moreover, the scholars found, the spread of false information is essentially not due to bots that are programmed to disseminate inaccurate stories. Instead, false news speeds faster around Twitter due to people retweeting inaccurate news items.
The study provides a variety of ways of quantifying this phenomenon: For instance, false news stories are 70 percent more likely to be retweeted than true stories are. It also takes true stories about six times as long to reach 1,500 people as it does for false stories to reach the same number of people.
When it comes to Twitter’s “cascades,” or unbroken retweet chains, falsehoods reach a cascade depth of 10 about 20 times faster than facts. And falsehoods are retweeted by unique users more broadly than true statements at every depth of cascade.