Why Fake News Spread Faster than “True” News?


A fake news has 70 percent greater chance to be retweeted compared to a true story. A false news story will reach 1,500 readers about six times faster than a true story. Even more alarmingly, unique users tend to retweet fake news at a broader scale, a study by MIT researchers published in Science finds.

After studying about 126,000 news cascades spreading on Twitter between 2006 and 2017, the researchers think they have an answer to why false news spread faster on social media. They turn to psychology to provide an answer, and the answer is – people simply love new things.

Being In the Know

False news, the researchers use this term as “fake news” has a broader and not-well-defined meaning, urge people to react and bear a sense of novelty. “False news is more novel, and people are more likely to share novel information,” says co-author Sinan Aral who is a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management. “People who share novel information are seen as being in the know,” he adds. Thus, a fake or false news has by far greater chances to get readers’ attention and spread more quickly, very often by an order of magnitude.

The far-reaching conclusions of the research paper refer to the human nature of false news spreading. There are bots on social media that spread both true and false stories. You can fight bots using a variety of tech tools and algorithms that can detect a bot. How you prevent a human from spreading a misleading or a completely fake news, however.

Soroush Vosoughi, a co-author, and postdoc at the MIT Media Lab’s Laboratory for Social Machines, also points out at another issue with false news. Some people spread false news inadvertently while others do it deliberately. So, you need to distinguish between the two categories and approach them differently when it comes to prevention of fake news spreading.

Where Most Fake News Occur?

The research covers over 4.5 million retweets by about 3 million people and while the researchers have not studied other social channels such as Facebook, Snapchat or WhatsApp, common sense suggest the situation is all the same on all social media platforms.

Politics comprises the biggest news category, with about 45,000 rumors out of 126,000 being researched. Other false news categories include urban legends, business, terrorism, science, entertainment, and natural disasters, in order of their popularity. Quite expectedly, the spread of false stories is more noticeable in the category of political news.

Rumor Cascades

Source: Science Magazine

Social platforms, for their part, do little to prevent spreading of fake news that regularly appears on lists of trending topics and the like, thus spreading falsehoods further and faster. Despite all the announced initiatives to combat fake news, no major social platform can boast marked success in preventing false news from occurring and spreading on their respective platform. Which means that their algorithms are quite incapable of detecting false news.

The Multiple Faces of Fake News

The problem with fake or false news, however, is a multifaceted one. You have fake news produced by obscure organizations or individuals but you also have otherwise reputable publishers that also produce misleading news from time to time. You have political and business interests at all levels of society and you have haters at a personal level. Defining what a false news is and how to prevent those from spreading online is a tough task.

A glimmer of hope lies in other research reports showing that the public has more trust in journalism as opposed to news and information spreading through platforms. Trust in social media as a news source is eroding all over the world, which may help in the fight against false news.

Source: Statista

Possible Solutions and Threats

Manipulating the news is not a XXIst century’s invention. Many scientists call for further research on the real impact and spread of false news on various online channels be they social platforms or media sites. One thing is for sure, fake news make a marked percentage of all news online and they disseminate faster than true stories.

You can fight tech only by tech. Facebook estimates there is an army of 60 million bots on their platform. The same applies to other social platforms. So, you need to implement viable IT solution and algorithms if you really want to deal with false info on your network. Machine learning algorithms and AI are potent tools when detection of false news is concerned.

The immediate threat related to false news is not even the manipulating nature of those falsehoods. It is the desire of certain powerful circles to adopt regulations on social platforms and IT companies in general, which may have very far-reaching consequences. Censorship is always an option for specific mindsets while both IT companies and regulators should find a third way to prevent the alarming levels of fake news spreading.

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