Hate Fake News? Blame Humans and Twitter (Not Bots)

Friday, 09 March 2018 - 11:31AM
Friday, 09 March 2018 - 11:31AM
Hate Fake News? Blame Humans and Twitter (Not Bots)
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Image credit: YouTube

It's easy to blame algorithms and soulless programs for the spread of false information, but according to a new study conducted by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, bots are not to blame for the misinformation that fills our Twitter feeds—we are.

The study, publishing in the journal Science, looked at data from fact-checking websites like Snopes and Politifact of fake and true stories that were shared on Twitter between 2006 and 2017.


The researchers found that roughly 126,000 rumors were spread by over 3 million people on the social media site, and that lies spread "farther, faster, deeper, and more broadly" than actual news about natural disasters and other true events.


"We found that false news was more novel than true news, which suggests that people were more likely to share novel information," wrote Soroush Vosough and his colleagues. "Whereas false stories inspired fear, disgust, and surprise in replies, true stories inspired anticipation, sadness, joy, and trust."

Addressing the issue of bots, which have become more of a buzzword as of late because of Russia's alleged involvement in the 2016 election, the researchers found that they do not play as large of a role as some might think.


"Contrary to conventional wisdom, robots accelerated the spread of true and false news at the same rate, implying that false news spreads more than the truth because humans, not robots, are more likely to spread it."


Another recent study, also out of MIT, found that United States conservatives are also helping with the spread of false news. More specifically, the study found that conservatives are 30 times more likely to spread lies from Russian trolls than their liberal counterparts.

Vosough and his team used bot detection algorithms to determine what percentage of the rumors were being spread by programs, but as one sociologist not involved with the study told The Verge, sophisticated bots can be hard to identify sometimes. Regardless of who or what is spreading the lies, it is important that people on social media become smarter and more diligent users when it comes to fact checking before sharing. If a story is being shared from an account named @BotzRUs, maybe don't retweet it.