Researchers find fake news reaches users up to 20 times faster than factual content — and real users are more likely to spread it than bots. From a report: “Falsehood flies, and the truth comes limping after it,” wrote Jonathan Swift in 1710. Now a group of scientists say they have found evidence Swift was right — at least when it comes to Twitter. In the paper, published in the journal Science, three MIT researchers describe an analysis of a vast amount of Twitter data: more than 125,000 stories, tweeted more than 4.5 million times in total, all categorised as being true or false by at least one of six independent fact-checking organisations. The findings make for unhappy reading. “Falsehood diffused significantly farther, faster, deeper and more broadly than the truth in all categories of information,” they write, “and the effects were more pronounced for false political news than for false news about terrorism, natural disasters, science, urban legends or financial information.”
How much further? “Whereas the truth rarely diffused to more than 1,000 people, the top 1% of false-news cascades routinely diffused to between 1,000 and 100,000 people,” they write. In other words, true facts don’t get retweeted, while too-good-to-be-true claims are viral gold. How much faster? “It took the truth about six times as long as falsehood to reach 1,500 people, and 20 times as long as falsehood to reach a cascade depth of 10” — meaning that it was retweeted 10 times sequentially (so, for example, B reads A’s feed and retweets a tweet, and C then reads B’s feed and retweets the same tweet, all the way to J).
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