‘News’ spreads faster and more widely when it’s false

Mar 9, 2018

By Philip Ball

Fake news spreads faster and more widely than true news, according to a study examining how 126,000 news items circulated among 3 million Twitter users.

“This is the most comprehensive descriptive account of true and false information spreading on social media that we have to date”, says Dean Eckles, a social scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge (MIT) who was not involved in the work1.

Untrue ‘news’ is as old as gossip, but its proliferation has become particularly troubling in the era of social media. False stories amplified on Facebook and Twitter, such as the claim that Pope Francis endorsed Donald Trump’s candidacy for the US presidency, have been implicated in tilting election outcomes.

The role of false stories in Donald Trump’s surprise 2016 election victory or the UK’s Brexit vote, for example, is subject to intense debate. Part of the answer hinges on understanding how fake news travels, say Sinan Aral and his team at MIT, whose study was published in Science on 8 March.

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