By Bob Smietana
When it comes to fake news, gossip works better than bots.
A new study published by Science magazine found that humans—and not digital imposters—are responsible for spreading most of the rumors and false news on Twitter.
The study’s authors looked at 126,000 stories, shared by more than 3 million people on Twitter. They found that software bots spread true news and false news at the same rate. But people were more likely to spread the false news around.
Researchers also looked at “rumor cascade”—the way in which rumors, true and false, spread on social media.
People were more likely to spread false rumors more than true ones, according to the story. False political news spread fastest of all.
“When we analyzed the diffusion dynamics of true and false rumors, we found that falsehood diffused significantly farther, faster, deeper, and more broadly than the truth in all categories of information,” the study’s authors wrote.
In other words, people like to gossip—especially about politics. And the juicier the gossip the better.
False rumors in the study were more inventive than true rumors. They also prompted stronger responses. False rumors spread through fear, disgust, and surprise. True rumors led to sadness, joy, anticipation, and trust.
Fear, disgust, and surprise appeared to work better when spreading rumors.
“The greater likelihood of people to retweet falsity more than the truth is what drives the spread of false news, despite network and individual factors that favor the truth,” wrote the study’s authors.
The juicy gossip problem isn’t likely to go away anytime soon, as the author Jonathan Swift pointed out in the 1700s.
Truth, he wrote, is often playing catch up:
“Falsehood flies, and truth comes limping after it, so that when men come to be undeceived, it is too late; the jest is over, and the tale hath had its effect: like a man, who hath thought of a good repartee when the discourse is changed, or the company parted; or like a physician, who hath found out an infallible medicine, after the patient is dead.”
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BOB SMIETANA (@BobSmietana) is senior writer for Facts & Trends.