Social media technology

False news spreads faster than flu

Print edition : March 30, 2018

The retweet option gives new life to false news.

On Twitter, false news gets more traction than real news, according to a new study. Three researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), U.S., have shown that false news spreads more rapidly on the social network Twitter than real news; that too, by a considerable margin.

The MIT scientists, who published the study in the journal Science on March 8, said they were “somewhere between surprised and stunned” at the different trajectories of true and false news on Twitter.

“We found that falsehood defuses significantly farther, faster, deeper, and more broadly than the truth, in all categories of information, and in many cases by an order of magnitude,” said Sinan Aral, a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management and co-author of a new paper that appeared in the journal Science on March 8.

“These findings shed new light on fundamental aspects of our online communication ecosystem,” said Deb Roy, co-author, Associate Professor of Media Arts and Sciences at the MIT Media Lab and Director of the Media Lab’s Laboratory for Social Machines (LSM).

Moreover, the scholars found that 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.

“When we removed all of the bots in our dataset, [the] differences between the spread of false and true news stood,” says Soroush Vosoughi, first author and a postdoc at LSM whose PhD research helped give rise to the current study.

The study provides a variety of ways of quantifying this phenomenon: for instance, false news stories are 70 per cent more likely to be retweeted than true stories. 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.

T.V. Jayan

A letter from the Editor

Dear reader,

The COVID-19-induced lockdown and the absolute necessity for human beings to maintain a physical distance from one another in order to contain the pandemic has changed our lives in unimaginable ways. The print medium all over the world is no exception.

As the distribution of printed copies is unlikely to resume any time soon, Frontline will come to you only through the digital platform until the return of normality. The resources needed to keep up the good work that Frontline has been doing for the past 35 years and more are immense. It is a long journey indeed. Readers who have been part of this journey are our source of strength.

Subscribing to the online edition, I am confident, will make it mutually beneficial.


R. Vijaya Sankar

Editor, Frontline

Support Quality Journalism
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor