In a recent study on misinformation on Twitter, it has been found that false news is spreading faster and further than the true news. As bots have got so much attention from a lot of organizations and people, their roles have a lot of involvement in spreading the false news. But we will have to look at the other side of the coin too, not only bots have played a major role in the activity, humans have played an equal role. We can not blam bot because we are the reason for creating and spreading that news.
Sinan Aral from Massachusetts Institute of Technology says, “False news spreads further, faster and deeper than the truth in every category of news. We’ve got a lot of media reports and testimony in front of both houses of Congress talking about how important bots are in the spread of false news.” He and his co-authors Soroush Vosoughi and Deb Roy at MIT Media Lab found out that the false news stories on Twitter were 70 percent more likely to be retweeted than the true ones. They noticed another important fact that even those accounts had fewer followers and less active, they had a lot of impact on those twitter impressions.
The study was covering three million accounts and 4.5 million tweets which were tweeted between the year 2006 to 2017. Out of those accounts, almost 15 percent of the accounts were bots. When they looked deeper into the study, they found out even the participation of those bots were 15 percent; it was more od real people accounts shared those false news. Although bots do join to the spread of false news, they also have the same impact on truthful news. On the other hand, humans seem to have an inclination for sharing false news rather than facts.
Aral thinks that relevant success of false news stories on Twitter might have something to do with people’s desire to say, and share, things that they find unusual or different. “When people share novel information, their status goes up, and false news, it turns out, tends to be a lot more novel than the truth”, he says.
In the study, Aral started with around 3000 stories which were classified as facts or fiction by some of the fact-checking companies like Snopes, PolitiFact, and FactCheck. He looked at Twitter accounts that mentioned or shared those stories. He compared on some of the facts how often and widely false stories were shared in against true news. He found out that individual tweets of true news only reached to 1000 or more people. Whereas the top one percent of false news reached to 100,000 people. True news also reaches and spread slowly than the false news. True news takes six times longer to reach to 1500 people compared to false news.
Out of all those news, Aral and his colleagues found out that political new were more likely to go viral and spread than any other news or stories. Some of those stories or rather conspiracy theories include that Barack Obama was not born in the United States and Hilary Clinton was seriously ill during 2016 presidential election was prominent stories in the dataset.
We have heard the news about the impact of those false tweets or Twitter being involved in the presidential election and some of the actions being taken by the companies. We have heard the same kind of news on Facebook too. But it is hard to interrogate Facebook data to work out how false news spread and at how far it reaches.
I have not seen conclusive evidence that social media is causing political polarisation. But I also don’t believe that this is a nothing issue. I do believe that this is a very serious problem, Aral says.