Lies spread faster than the truth, is the grim conclusions of the largest-ever study of fake news. Falsehoods almost always beat out the truth on Twitter, penetrating further, faster, and deeper into the social network than accurate information, according to an ambitious and first-of-its-kind study, Robinson Meyer writes for The Atlantic:
The massive new study analyzes every major contested news story in English across the span of Twitter’s existence—some 126,000 stories, tweeted by 3 million users, over more than 10 years—and finds that the truth simply cannot compete with hoax and rumor. By every common metric, falsehood consistently dominates the truth on Twitter, the study finds: Fake news and false rumors reach more people, penetrate deeper into the social network, and spread much faster than accurate stories.
“It seems to be pretty clear that false information outperforms true information,” said Soroush Vosoughi, a data scientist at MIT who has studied fake news since 2013 and who led the study, published Thursday in Science. “And that is not just because of bots. It might have something to do with human nature.”
The rise of fake news highlights the erosion of long-standing institutional bulwarks against misinformation in the internet age, according to 16 political scientists and legal scholars, writing in an essay also published Thursday in Science.
“Concern over the problem is global. However, much remains unknown regarding the vulnerabilities of individuals, institutions, and society to manipulations by malicious actors,” they note. “A new system of safeguards is needed,” the scholars add, calling for more interdisciplinary research “to reduce the spread of fake news and to address the underlying pathologies it has revealed.”
Why does falsehood do so well? The MIT team settled on two hypotheses, Meyer adds:
- First, fake news seems to be more “novel” than real news. Falsehoods are often notably different from the all the tweets that have appeared in a user’s timeline 60 days prior to their retweeting them, the team found.
- Second, fake news evokes much more emotion than the average tweet. The researchers created a database of the words that Twitter users used to reply to the 126,000 contested tweets, then analyzed it with a state-of-the-art sentiment-analysis tool. Fake tweets tended to elicit words associated with surprise and disgust, while accurate tweets summoned words associated with sadness and trust, they found.
With major elections looming, citizens in Latin America must work toward becoming informed and critical consumers of information, writes Roberta Braga, an assistant director in the Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center. The following three lessons can guide individual steps to combat fake news:
1. Understand the Master Narrative for Context: Master narratives help explain the shared meaning of the past, present, and future of international politics. They are a story that a group can understand and identify with their own lives. However, these narratives are also the means for political actors to shape the behavior of domestic and international audiences. As individuals, having an eye for society’s master narratives can provide context to help decipher conversations.
2. Double-Check Sources: Journalists are taught to verify their facts through at least three sources before publishing—individuals should try taking a second look at information as well. By asking one or two questions about the source and bias of information, individuals take a pause and may just find out the viral article or social media post is untrue. Is the source an established organization or an individual? What is the organization’s mission? Chances are, if the image or article came from a website that has “conspiracy” in the address, it is not. Is the source linked to, or funded by, a specific country? If so, think about what that actor may want to achieve. It takes one minute to verify and think twice before sharing.
3. Take a Second Look at the Text, Line by Line: The concept of critical discourse analysis (CDA) refers to the ways one can analyze text or speeches deemed to be politically or culturally influential. When reading an article, keep an eye out for some key elements of CDA.
When Russian President Vladimir Putin took advantage of Ukraine’s chaos to invade, he did not just send troops, he unleashed a chilling disinformation campaign that looks from this vantage point like a trial run for the one in this country during the last presidential campaign, Kenneth Turan writes for the Los Angeles Times, in a review of ‘Breaking Point: The War for Democracy in Ukraine’:
As recent news stories have emphasized, one of the main problems Ukraine has is the internal one of belief in rule of law in the face of a legacy of corruption that remains hard to stamp out. As [National Endowment for Democracy board member] Anne Applebaum, the Pulitzer-Prize winning author of “Gulag: A History” puts it, the situation in Ukraine asks the question, “Can European democracy survive into the 21st century?” It is bad news for us all if it cannot.