A large-scale study has found fake news online spreads far faster than the truth.

MIT researchers analysed verified true and false news stories between 2006 and 2017 found the fake news stories spread farther and faster than true news.

Falsehoods were 70 per cent more likely to be retweeted than the truth, and, among the fake news, political stories were the most virulent, spreading at three times the rate of other false news topics.

In particular, the team looked at the likelihood that a tweet would create a “cascade” of retweets.

While the truth rarely diffused to more than 1,000 people, the top 1 per cent of false-news cascades routinely diffused to between 1,000 and 100,000 people.

Of the various types of false news, political news was the most virulent, spreading at three times the rate of other false news topics.

To find out whether Twitter users were more likely to retweet information that was considered “novel,” the team conducted an additional, rigorous analysis.

They found the false news that spreads fast was considered more novel, and that that novel information is more likely to be retweeted.

In assessing the emotional content of tweets, they found that false stories inspired fear, disgust, and surprise in replies, whereas true stories inspired anticipation, sadness, joy, and trust.

Lastly, when the authors used an algorithm to remove bots from their analysis, the results suggest that humans have a greater role than robots do in the dissemination of false news. 

To address the issue of fake news, the authors provide detailed recommendations on two key types of interventions – one that focuses on empowering individuals to evaluate the fake news they encounter, and a second that targets structural changes that aim to prevent exposing individuals to fake news.

They call for an interdisciplinary research effort that involves various social media platforms, and for society at large to work to create a news ecosystem and culture that values and promotes truth.

The full study is accessible here.