Study Examines Why Fake News Spreads Quickly, Which Is Why Experts Say You Must Be Proactive

The term “Fake News” emerged into the public lexicon in recent years because of its impact on the political landscape.

Now three MIT researchers have published the results of their study on the spread of online false news, confirming its power. With the assistance of six independent fact checking organizations, true and false news stories distributed on Twitter were scrutinized from 2006 to 2017 involving “approximately 126K cascades on Twitter about contested news stories tweeted by 3 million people over 4.5M times.”

Not surprisingly, “the researchers found that false news travels farther, faster, deeper and more broadly than the truth online in all categories.” Results were even more startling in the category of false political news, which exceeded those found in “false news about terrorism, natural disasters, science, urban legends or financial information.”

So why does “Fake News” travel so much more quickly than the truth? The research revealed that, as opposed to a robot, that’s because “humans are more likely to spread it.” It was found that as much as 70 percent of falsehoods were retweeted as compared to “truth” retweets.

Of interest to note are the characteristics of “fake” news spreaders. They “had significantly fewer followers, followed significantly fewer people, were significantly less active on Twitter, were ‘verified’ significantly less often and had been on Twitter for significantly less time.” Despite a small social following, these circumstances led researchers to “support a ‘novelty hypothesis.’ False news was more novel than the truth and people were more likely to share novel information.”

Theme’s Take

This study highlights a couple things:

“First, it emphasizes the importance of companies being proactive with their social media campaign, not only so they can counter the spread of potentially disparaging fake news, but also leveraging the power of social for the company’s benefit,” said Trey Robinson, the co-managing partner of Theme Communications.

“Second, it suggests that those behind the fake news are very proactive in spreading their message. For example, they typically make their headlines more sensational since they don’t have to be objective. This serves as a catalyst for more clicks.”