Blame the humans, not the bots, for retweeting false news

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gif via Ryan Seslow

According to research done by data scientists at MIT, it is humans, not bots, which disseminate false news.

The study began with the 2013 Boston bombings when Twitter spread inaccurate rumors about the aftermath of the events.

The three authors of the study then took it upon themselves to dig deeper into the fake news phenomenon by examining tweets of 3 million users from the years 2006 to 2017.

Blame the humans, not the machines

The overarching result is that false news spreads faster than real news because people on Twitter are more likely to retweet novelty. Said MIT professor and researcher Sinan Aral, “We found that, contrary to conventional wisdom, bots accelerate the spread of true and false stories at the same rate. False news spreads more than the truth because humans, not robots, are more likely to spread it.”

Sensationalism stokes retweets. In fact, “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.”

MIT scientists believe misinformation also runs rampant on Facebook but is harder to detect because it lives in the echo chambers of a walled garden: FB groups, private posts, and direct messages (re: dark social). Because of Russia’s election meddling in 2016, both Facebook and Twitter are finally taking efforts to improve their platforms for better veracity detection. Fact-checking is more vital than ever.

Humans are suckers for captivating but erroneous news. Some people even refuse to let go. As Mark Twain so wisely noted, “It’s easier to fool people than to convince them that they have been fooled.” The good news is that the truth never expires, even if it takes longer to percolate.

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