A new scientific analysis offers rigorous proof of something that social media acolytes have known for years: Twitter is an excellent platform for spreading actual news.
Unfortunately, the analysis shows, it's even better at spreading fake news.
Compared to tweets about claims that were verifiably true, tweets about claims that were undeniably false were 70 percent more likely to be retweeted in the Twitterverse. And false claims about politics spread further than any other category of news included in the analysis.
A team of data scientists and social media experts from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology came to these dispiriting conclusions after examining the spread of thousands of tweets shared by millions of people over a span of 12 years. They reported their findings this week in the journal Science.
"Falsehood diffused significantly farther, faster, deeper, and more broadly than the truth in all categories of information," wrote Soroush Vosoughi and Deb Roy of the MIT Media Lab and Sinan Aral of MIT's Sloan School of Management.
"It took the truth about six times as long as falsehood to reach 1,500 people," the trio added.
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Before we proceed, let's pause for a moment to define our terms.
The researchers considered "news" to be "any asserted claim made on Twitter." That claim could be expressed in words, a photo or a link to a full article on the internet.
Thanks to politicians, the term "fake news" now means information that does not support one's point of view. The researchers made a point of avoiding use of this phrase.
Instead, they categorized news as either "true" or "false." If a tweet is labeled "false," that doesn't imply that the person who wrote it is trying to pull a fast one. It only means that the claim in the tweet is inaccurate.