An excellent article by Steve Lohr in The New York Times tells us False News Spreads Faster and Wider, and Humans Are to Blame. He cites a study by Sinan Aral from MIT’s Sloan School of Management that analyzed ten years of Twitter stories spread by three million people. Aral’s team used information from six independent fact-checking organizations to establish if the stories were true or false. Then they counted retweets. They found that not only were lies 70% more likely to be retweeted, but also that lies travel faster and farther. Our tendency to retweet lies has significant consequences now that nearly two-thirds of Americans get at least some of their news from social media.
So why do people share false stories?
False claims are more eye-catching. The author says this is no surprise, as falsehoods are made up to be whatever the writer wants and honest information isn’t. Another reason is that people rarely read the entire message they pass on. Our cognitive biases respond when we are presented with the right kind of algorithmically selected meme. And of course there is also the desire to be among the first to “know,” where speed is valued more than accuracy.
Taking “news” at face value is typical.
Stopping to determine the true sources of stories and the motivations behind them is hard mental work. It takes a lot effort, is more deliberate, and requires intellectual discipline. So it’s your choice. You can be one of the herd that get their likely-to-be-distortions news from social media, or you can be one of the few who trust only reliable sources.