The Truth About False Online News

Just-released research sheds light on the spread of false news and what’s behind it

False news is big news, but what’s really going on? Barely a day goes by without a new development about the veracity of social media, foreign meddling in U.S. elections, or questionable science. Sinan Aral, co-lead of the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy, reveals the truth about false news based on the largest-ever longitudinal study of the spread of false news online, published in Science on March 8, 2018.

Conducted with Soroush Vosoughi and Deb Roy of the MIT Media Lab, “The Spread of True and False News Online” investigates the differential diffusion of all the verified, true and false news stories distributed on Twitter from 2006 to 2017. The data comprise approximately 126,000 stories tweeted by about 3 million people over 4.5 million times. Until this study, few large-scale empirical investigations of the diffusion of false news or its social origins had existed. Their conclusions overturn conventional wisdom about how misinformation spreads, what causes it to spread so fast, and who — or what — is spreading it.

  • The researchers found that false news travels farther, faster, deeper and more broadly than the truth online in all categories. The effects were more pronounced for false political news than for false news about terrorism, natural disasters, science, urban legends or financial information.
  • Contrary to conventional wisdom, the study found that false news spreads more quickly than the truth because humans, not robots, are more likely to spread it. Falsehoods were 70% more likely to be retweeted than the truth, even when controlling for the account age, activity level and number of followers of the original tweeter, as well as whether the original tweeter was a verified user.

More on “The Truth About False News”

CLICK HERE to watch “The Truth About False News” video with Prof. Sinan Aral, MIT andTim O’Reilly hosted by MIT Sloan. The experts discuss insights from the research by Sinan Aral, MIT Sloan Professor, and author of the forthcoming book, The Hype Machine, and his co-researchers, Soroush Vosoughi and Deb Roy, of the MIT Media Lab.

CLICK HERE to read “The Spread of True and False News Online,” published in Science on March 8, 2018.

CLICK HERE to view the MIT IDE’s Research Brief on “The Spread of True and False News Online,” a summary of the research findings.

Some of the News & Media coverage:

Watch the Mar. 20 interview with MSNBC here.

MIT Sloan School of Management: Study: False News Spreads Faster Than Truth

The New York Times; Op-ed by Sinan Aral, How Lies Spread Online

The New York Times: Study Finds False Stories Travel Way Faster Than the Truth

The New York Times: It’s True: False News Speads Faster and Wider. And Humans Are to Blame.

VOX: False News Stories Travel Faster and Farther on Twitter than the Truth

Reuters: False News 70 percent More Likely to Spread on Twitter: Study

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