The issue of fake news pertains to both fat science and politics. A study reported March 9th in Science by guys in the media lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that fake news disseminates much more widely in social media than the truth.1
They studied the diffusion of all the verified true and false news stories distributed on Twitter from 2006 to 2017. That was about 126,000 stories tweeted by about 3 million people more than 4.5 million times. I guess you need a computer do do this kind of study. They found that “falsehood diffused significantly farther, deeper and more broadly than the truth in all categories of information, and the effects were more pronounced for false political news than for false news about terrorism, natural disasters, science, urban legends or financial information.” They surmise that human nature is such that since false news was more novel than true news, people were more likely to share novel information. Whereas false stories inspired fear, disgust and surprise in replies, true stories inspired anticipation, sadness, joy and trust. Contrary to conventional wisdom, they found that robots accelerated the spread of true and false news at the same rate, implying that false news spreads more than the truth because humans, not robots, are more likely to spread it. False news reached way more people than the truth; the top 1% of false news cascades diffused to between 1,000 and 100,000 people, whereas the truth rarely diffused to more than 1,000 people. Falsehood also diffused faster than the truth.
But Americans weren’t influenced by Vladimir Putin in the last election. We’re not that stupid.
1. Vosoughi S et al. The spread of true and false news online. Science 2018;359(6380):1146-51
John DiTraglia, M.D., is a pediatrician in Portsmouth. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 740-354-6605.