Looks like problems for Twitter is far from over. The micro-blogging platform, which is facing severe criticism of the slow growth in its user base, is once again at the receiving end due to the growing influence, reach and dominance of retweets of false news.
We all are somewhat aware that false rumours spread faster than the actual truth. Today, the internet is crammed with false news, being spread and scaled up on the social media, which are not necessarily created by bots alone. These false news spread rapidly and are possibly known to influence political, economic, and social well-being. The online media is packed with false tweet generators like Tweeterino, False Tweets, etc. But if any news is retweeted, it is powerful enough to spread like a wildfire – no matter if the story is real or a complete hoax.
A team at MIT has spent about 2 years in studying and observing the role of Twitter in spreading false news, worldwide. MIT released a report that was published on Thursday which claimed that false news on Twitter is 70% more likely to be re-tweeted than the real stories. The report also highlighted that true stories take almost 6x more time to reach 1,500 people than the time false stories take to reach the same number of people.
The researchers basically used a data set of rumour cascades on Twitter from 2006 to 2017. To determine if a news was real or false, they found the veracity of news using information from six independent fact-checking groups. It turned out that 126,000 rumours were tweeted by 3 million people more than 4.5 million times. Evidently, falsehood diffused faster and deeper than the truth. The emotional reaction and sentiments of the recipients might be responsible for this uprising. You can read more about the materials and methods by following the section in a Science journal highlighting the figures and data of the report separately.
Some people blame bots for spreading the false news on Twitter, and that is true to a certain extent as well – the fictitious story of Hillary Clinton running a sex-trafficking ring in the basement of a pizza shop is one such example. But, bots are not solely responsible for the broadcasting phoney news. As bots fail to create a disparity between the retweets of false versus real news, the contribution of bots in spreading retweets of false news and real news is almost equal.
“So the massive differences cannot be because of bots,” Sinon Aral, a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management and co-author of the study, said.
This implies that false news wide-spreads rapidly more than the real news because we humans, not robots, are more likely to spread it.
The veracity of the news is indeed equally important as the news itself or else it might become a potential false news which can escalate into a rumour anytime. We as humans are naturally gullible and naive because we have a bias to assume truth. Prior to the internet-era, when most news was printed, the professional news editors were the decision makers of what news should be published. Now, people do this – often recklessly. Liking a news tweet or re-tweeting it is similar to approving the news, making it more likely to be retweeted by other users.
The “Weaponization” of News
Nowadays, the headlines are designed to catch eyeballs rather than one that caters truth. Sometimes these fake rumours become so ‘powerful’ through excessive circulation like retweets, that even the knowledge that directly contradicts false information, fails to detect its credibility. Twitter might make efforts to take down the false news disseminating bots, but it can’t alter our rash behaviour. News consumers, before hastily sharing, should actually give proper thought and consideration before they like, rate or retweet a news.