BOSTON: False news spreads far faster and wider on Twitter than the truth, according to a new academic study, which also suggests that people, not bots, are the prime culprits when it comes to the proliferation of misinformation.

The research, which was published in Science magazine last week, revealed that false news stories are 70% more likely to be retweeted than true ones and that true news takes six times longer to be seen by 1,500 people on Twitter.

Conducted by Sinan Aral, Soroush Vosoughi and Deb Roy from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the study involved gathering Twitter data from the social platform’s foundation in 2006 through to 2017.

The MIT researchers tracked 126,000 stories that had been shared 4.5 million times by about three million people, classifying them as true or false with the support of six independent fact-checking organisations.

Among the numerous findings, they discovered that true stories were rarely seen by more than 1,000 people whereas the top 1% of false stories routinely reached between 1,000 and 100,000 people, with political stories more likely to go viral than any other kind of false information.

And in a particularly interesting finding, the researchers used software to remove automated bots from the data and concluded that the results were essentially the same.

Even without bots, false news still spread at roughly the same rate and to the same number of people, leading the researchers to suggest that human psychology is responsible.

“False news is more novel and people are more likely to share novel information,” said Sinan Aral in comments to MIT News. “People who share novel information are seen as being in the know,” he added.

“Now behavioural interventions become even more important in our fight to stop the spread of false news. Whereas if it were just bots, we would need a technological solution.”

Sourced from MIT News, Science; additional content by WARC staff