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MIT Study Finds That Twitter Users Are Way More Likely To Retweet False News Stories Than Real News

Examining data from as far back as 2006, a recent Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) study, published Thursday in the journal Science, has shown that false news is significantly more likely to be retweeted by Twitter users than factual stories—a whopping 70 percent more likely. Furthermore, the study found that humans are indeed responsible for this distressing slant—not bots as is often believed. 

The study was undertaken because of mounting concern over how false news could negatively impact our society, particularly in relation to politics and the economy. Sinan Aral, co-author of the study, and professor at MIT's Institute for Data, Systems, and Society, was troubled by the study's findings. "There are real world and potentially negative consequences if decisions are going to be made based off falsity," he said in an interview.

The study uses the term "false" news rather than "fake" because of how easily politicians throw the latter term around. "Politicians use the term fake news to describe stories they just don’t like," Aral explained. 

Data for the study was comprised of 126,000 stories tweeted by 3 million people more than 4.5 million times. Six independent fact-checking organizations such as were used to verify if the news was true or false. 

The New York Times summed up the findings of the study: 

False claims were 70 percent more likely than the truth to be shared on Twitter. True stories were rarely retweeted by more than 1,000 people, but the top 1 percent of false stories were routinely shared by 1,000 to 100,000 people. And it took true stories about six times as long as false ones to reach 1,500 people.

As for the bots, the study concluded, "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."

Possibly the most disheartening discovery made in the study was that humans appear to prefer false news because of its novelty and how it makes them feel when they read it. 

According to the study:

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

We're feeling Zorbane here:

The takeaway: Think before you tweet.

H/T: Mashable, Twitter, CBC News