A new study by three MIT scholars has found that false news spreads more rapidly on the social network Twitter than real news does — and by a substantial margin. 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. The paper, “The Spread of True and False News Online,” is published today in Science.
The bottom-line findings produce a basic question: Why do falsehoods spread more quickly than the truth, on Twitter? the answer may reside in human psychology: We like new things. False news is more novel, and people are more likely to share novel information. And on social networks, people can gain attention by being the first to share previously unknown (but possibly false) information.
People respond to false news more with surprise and disgust, whereas true stories produced replies more generally characterized by sadness, anticipation, and trust. So while the researchers “cannot claim that novelty causes retweets” by itself, as they state in the paper, the surprise people register when they see false news fits with the idea that the novelty of falsehoods may be an important part of their propagation.
The MIT scholars say it is possible that the same phenomenon occurs on other social media platforms, including Facebook, but they emphasize that careful studies are needed on that and other related questions.
— source MIT News Office | Mar 8, 2018