"False news travels farther, faster, deeper and more broadly than the truth in every category of information and sometimes by an order of magnitude", said Sinan Aral, the paper's senior author and head of MIT's Initiative on the Digital Economy. The social media advertising market creates incentives for the spread of false stories because their wider diffusion makes them profitable. True news inspired more anticipation, sadness and joy, depending on the nature of the stories.
It also took genuine stories six times as long to reach an audience of 1,500 compared to fake news. There are up to 60 million automated accounts on Facebook and up to 48 million on Twitter, Menczer reported in a recent study.
By nearly all metrics, false cascades outpaced true ones.
"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", researchers wrote of their findings for the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Researchers tracked about 126,000 "cascades", or unbroken retweet chains, of news stories spreading on Twitter between 2006 and 2017.
While the political repercussions of fake news are quite obvious, the phenomenon has affected various other discussions. There were clear spikes of fake retweets during the 2012 and 2016 U.S. presidential elections.
In fact, those who spread false news "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", said the study. "Twitter became our main source of news", Vosoughi says, but in the aftermath of the attack, he realized that a lot of the news on the social media platform were indeed rumors and false news.
"There might a larger grey area of half-truths and half-false stories that are disseminated".
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This week, Roy and Vosoughi - now an MIT postdoc - published the latest in a series of research projects related to that switch, a broad-reaching paper in the journal Science that draws a grim conclusion: on Twitter, false info spreads far more rapidly than real news. And it isn't bots that are responsible.
And it wasn't bots spreading most of the falsehoods, they found. They also used a broad definition of "news".
"This implies that misinformation containment policies should also emphasise behavioural interventions, like labelling and incentives to dissuade the spread of misinformation, rather than focusing exclusively on curtailing bots". But the difference between how false and true news spread was obvious.
For one thing, it only looked at English-language rumours, Dr Vosoughi said.
And when the researchers looked at how stories cascade - how they link from one person to another like a family tree - false information reached as many as 24 generations, while true information maxed out at a dozen.
Is it actually changing people's minds? Now a group of scientists say they have found evidence Swift was right - at least when it comes to Twitter.
"We are not going to remove content based on the fact this is untrue", he told British MPs in February.
For now, Roy says, even well-meaning Twitter users might reflect on a simple idea: "Think before you retweet".
So Aral's team made a decision to use the term "false news" instead. To that end, they measured the "information uniqueness" of rumors and discovered that false rumors were more likely to contain new, but wrong, information.