On Twitter, falsehood spreads faster than truth

Mar 08, 2018

ACROSS the French countryside, in the summer of 1789, rumours swirled about vengeful aristocrats bent on the destruction of peasants’ property. It was not true. The Great Fear, as it is now known, tipped France into revolution with a flurry of fact-free gossip and rumour.

Two centuries later the methods for spreading nonsense are much improved. In the first paper of its kind, published in Science on March 8th, Soroush Vosoughi and his colleagues at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology present evidence that, on Twitter at least, false stories travel faster and farther than true ones.

The study, carried out at MIT’s Laboratory for Social Machines, showed this by examining every tweet sent between 2006 and 2017. The researchers used statistical models to classify tweets as false or true, by applying data taken from six independent fact-checking organisations. That allowed them to categorise over 4.5m tweets about 126,000 different stories. Those stories were then ranked according to how they spread...

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