Fake news travels faster and reaches more people than legitimate reports, study finds

The 'novel' nature of fake news could be to blame for its popularity

Fake news, especially false political news, travels faster than legitimate reports a study from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has revealed.

Spanning 126,000 rumours and false news stories spread on Twitter over a period of 11 years, researchers found fake news was more commonly re-tweeted by humans than bots, suggesting the “more novel” nature of fake news could be to blame.

In addition to false political stories, other popular topics included urban legends, business, terrorism, science, entertainment and natural disasters.

“False news is more novel, and people are more likely to share novel information,” one of the study’s co-authors, Professor Sinan Aral, quantified.

Professor Aral, Soroush Vosoughi and associate professor Deb Roy began their research following the Boston marathon bombing in 2013.

“Twitter became our main source of news,” explained Dr Vosoughi. “I realised that…a good chunk of what I was reading on social media was rumours; it was false news.”

Twitter provided the information for the study with six independent fact-checking sources used to identify whether the stories were genuine.

The results revealed false news was 70% more likely to be re-tweeted than true stories; true stories take six times longer to reach 1,500 people and true stories were rarely shared by more than 1,000 people, but fake news could reach up to 100,000.

Earlier this week, the Associated Press (AP) announced plans to expand its collaboration with Facebook to help “identify and debunk” false and misleading stories in the lead up to the US midterm elections.

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