Faster Than Truth

There’s an old adage among social media experts, “Fake news travels faster than truth on Twitter”.

In what could be viewed as a balanced counterpoint to our last posting about Tony Ortega and his legion of now-banned fake users, new research from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) suggests that people themselves, even without the aid of fake bot armies, would rather spread juicy lies rather than the truth.

Science magazine, in a writeup of the research provided by MIT, reports that demonstrably false claimsas in, tweets that had been investigated by a variety of independent fact-checking organizations, including Snopes and are 70% more likely to be retweeted. Indeed, it would seem the more bogus the claim the faster and further it spreads than any other category of ”news”.

The data we’ve seen regarding Ortega’s users initially indicated to us that perhaps this was a simply a function of meddlesome bots designed to sow chaos. In fact, thats what social media researchers preliminarily assumed as well. But the truth appears to be a little more complex. And a lot more insidious.

The bombshell report reveals that it was humans, relishing new (false) information that they hadn’t before seen, amplifying these lies.

Even without the busybody bots, “fake news” still spreads at about the same rate and to the same number of people. Specifically, the researchers found that truth rarely reached more than 1000 Twitter users. The most outlandish “fake news”, on the other hand, routinely reached well over 10,000 people.

The content of these more “outlandishly fake” tweets themselves, the report goes on, show that tweets with false information were seen as refreshingly novel: they had new information that a Twitter user hadnt seen before, making them feel fresher than actual true stories. The “fake news” tweets were also far more emotionally provocative, eliciting more surprise and disgust in their comments.

Is this the Tony Ortega game plan? To disseminate the most egregiously false, emotionally manipulative stories he can think up in the hopes that their viral potential will be maximized by real-life human followers hungry for novel lies? It’s an intriguing thought and one that we will continue to ponder as this story develops.

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