The impact of fake news may have been underestimated according to a study conducted by the University of Buffalo which found that the vast majority of Twitter users left their critical faculties at the door when viewing false tweets.
A review of 20,000 tweets relating incidents like the Boston Marathon Bombing and Hurricane Sandy found that the number of tweeters who took the time to question the wild rumours and speculation that they were reading varied from as little 1% to a maximum of 9%.
Of those that did swim against the tide most stated that the original tweet was inaccurate with just 5% to 9% of these critical tweets containing commentary or follow-up research to attempt to confirm the veracity of the information.
At the other end of the scale between 86% and 91% of users blithely played their part in propagating the questionable content by retweeting or liking the dubious news.
Jun Zhuang, PhD, lead author of the study wrote: “To the best of our knowledge, this is the first study to investigate how apt Twitter users are at debunking falsehoods during disasters. Unfortunately, the results paint a less than flattering picture.”
Such biases even extended to tweets which were later proven to be false, with fewer than 10% of individuals taking the time to delete the tweet and less than 20% actively sharing the debunking with their own followers.
The researchers did issue one caveat with their findings however, observing that they only documented active tweets, comments, retweets and likes and did not calculate how many users failed to respond to the rumours – a potential indication that these people were not convinced by the original message.
The findings confirm the results of previous studies which show that fake news travels faster and reaches a broader audience than legitimate news.