Falsehoods travel significantly faster and further than truth, whatever the information, according to a Massachusetts Institute of Technology study. When it comes to political false news the probability of it’s spread increases even more so—reportedly propagating through networks more than any other category of false information.
Researchers, in the first-of-its-kind study, analysed 126,000 news items tweeted by more than 3 million Twitter users and conclusively reached this conclusion. Soroush Vosoughi and his team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab closely observed these news stories on Twitter.
The team found that genuine and correct tweets took almost six times more time to spread compared to false ones from a sample of 1500 people. False information also and political stories also went viral quicker, receiving more retweets and page views.
The content in these unnerving tweets can be used to distort facts and spread propaganda to tilt people’s opinion in order to make it serve a particular vested interest. 'Fake news' powered by social media can be dangerous to a healthy democracy, with potential to incite a mob or affect the outcome of an election. The recent communal clashes in Sri Lanka and Myanmar bear testimony to this fact.
Misinformation (or lies) is more novel than truth, which is why people love to share it out of fear, surprise and disgust, writes The Guardian. The bigger question is - why do people share 'fake news' more than truth? Though the study sheds little light on this facet, researchers believed that 'fake news' seemed more appealing to people.
Brian Resnick at Vox tried to offer a possible explanation that people are more likely to share stories that are emotionally charging, even if they come from unverified sources. Although, due to a lack of quantifiable data, researchers can't be certain if this is the case more—putting it down to speculation.
Though the faster dissemination of false news is a relatively unstudied phenomenon in communication, past studies in psychology and sociology can help us understand the phenomenon. It has been found that negative news is shared more than positive and that there is also a clear bias towards sharing surprising news over bland news, mentions a Tech Crunch report. An MIT study found that "false rumors were significantly more novel than the truth in all novelty metrics."
Dr. Jens Binder, an expert in Psychology at Nottingham Trent University, opines that the act of sharing content on social media happens because of emotional reasons and this applies to 'fake news' as well. The idea behind this is that the more people share news or information, the more it satisfies the human ego, says a The Independent report. It further states that people are also more likely to share 'fake news' since everybody loves to share gossips and rumours.
Tech Crunch, a popular technology news site in the US, points towards another possible reason that sounds more interesting. It says that current advertising system incentivise the spread of false news on their platforms.
Stopping this phenomenon is important as it may cause the misallocation of resources to suit vested motives. This goal can be achieved by creating a more open and transparent atmosphere on social media platforms and by collaborating with like-minded organisations and individuals.