An alarming new study from researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology seems to prove that false stories on Twitter are 70 percent more likely to be spread by human users of the social media platform than are true stories. The study looked at 126,000 stories shared by 3 million people on Twitter over an eleven year period from 2006 to 2017.
“Falsehood diffused significantly farther, faster, 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,” the M.I.T. researchers wrote for the American Association for the Advancement of Science. “There is worldwide concern over false news and the possibility that it can influence political, economic, and social well-being.”
Although Twitter said it is taking steps to significantly reduce the spread of fake stories by users, it has to this point made few if any changes in how it operates or deals with false information. Last week Twitter executives said they were going to start very soon to solicit suggestions for how they can improve Twitter to make it less susceptible to the spread of fake news.
In addition, Twitter failed to meet a deadline in January to give Congress more information on how their social media platform was used to further Russia’s election meddling. Some powerful U.S. Senators such as Mark Warner of Virginia strongly criticized Twitter for their lack of response.
On top of that, there have been recent reports that new video technology is being used to further the spread of false information and fake news.
“Technology experts have begun to sound the alarm on the new software, which lets users take existing videos and make high-quality altered video and audio that appears real. The emergence of the technology opens up a new world of hoaxes driven by doctored audio or video, and threatens to shake faith in the media even further,” said Ali Breland, writing in The Hill.
The end result of this is that people will trust the media less, which creates many problems in a free society such as ours. The public will increasingly look to government to regulate media companies and internet companies to prevent the spread of false information. As to whether or not they will be able to do that, only time will tell.
I am a lifelong Democrat with a passion for social justice and progressive issues. I have degrees in writing, economics and law from the University of Iowa.