A new study by researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has found that fake news does, in fact, travel much faster than real news.
In a paper published by MIT, researchers said that it is not even the bots that are designed specifically to disseminate inaccuracies that spread most of the fake news. Everyday people who tend to tweet and retweet false information are the driving force here.
"When we removed all of the bots in our dataset, differences between the spread of false and true news stood," said Soroush Vosoughi, a co-author of the new paper.
The results of the study are quite startling. Fake news is 70 percent likelier than real news stories to get retweeted, the study has found.
Real news takes six times as long to reach 1,500 people as fake news, said the study.
This was also the case with Twitter cascades — unbroken retweet chains — where untrue stories can reach cascade depths 10-20 times faster than fact-based news.
Fake news is retweeted by unique users more broadly than real news at every depth within a cascade.
After the Boston Marathon bombing, Twitter became one of the places where news started to spread fast and effectively. "Twitter became our main source of news," Vosoughi says, but in the aftermath of the attack, he realized that a lot of the news on the social media platform were indeed rumors and false news.
"These findings shed new light on fundamental aspects of our online communication ecosystem," said Deb Roy, an associate professor of media arts and sciences at the MIT Media Lab who is also a co-author of the study.
Roy added that the researchers were "somewhere between surprised and stunned" at just how different the trajectories that true and fake news stories on Twitter take.
Roy and Vosoughi then reportedly approached Twitter, which then opened up its archives for study. The researcher duo studied 126,000 cascades which were tweeted out over 4.5 million times by 3 million people between 2006 and 2017. The study lasted from 2013 to 2017, noted the paper.
To verify a news story, six fact-checkers were used — FactCheck, Hoax-Slayer, PolitiFact, Snopes, TruthorFiction, and About.com Urban Legends. They found that their judgments matched with facts about 95 percent of the time.
So why does false news spread so fast? The team blamed human psychology. Turns out, humans just like new things. Also, people like to be first.
"False news is more novel, and people are more likely to share novel information," said Sinan Aral, another member of the team.
When on social networks, people gain attention by being the first to share something that is "previously unknown" piece of information, even if it could be false. So, said Aral, "People who share novel information are seen as being in the know."