Bots don’t spread fake news, people do - William Murray

Fake news. It’s the phrase on everyone’s lips recently, from the US President to newsrooms up and down the country. But “what exactly is it?” we hear you shout.

Luckily, PR Week has heard the cries of confusion and put together a handy guide to the seven types of fake news we’re most likely to encounter.

But how much of what we read is considered fake news? A recent study by three scholars at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has found that fake news spreads quicker on Twitter than real news does – and by a landslide.

Once all the bots were removed from the data pool, the study showed that

– Fake news stories were 70% (yes 70%) more likely to be retweeted than true stories

– True stories take six times longer to reach 1,500 people

– True stories were rarely shared by more than 1,000 people, but fake news could reach up to a staggering 100,000 people

Professor Aral, Soroush Vosoughi and associate professor Deb Roy began their research following the Boston marathon bombing in 2013.

“Twitter became our main source of news,” said Dr Vosoughi. “I realised that… a good chunk of what I was reading on social media were rumours; it was false news.”

So what does that mean for our daily browsing? Well, in good news, social media platforms are tackling fake news head on. Facebook has promised to take steps to eradicate it by utilising their users to rank trustworthy news sources, Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey is looking to create a ‘holistic system’ as a fix, and in UK politics the digital secretary Matt Hancock is even exploring new legislation to curb the issue.

For now though, well as Deb Roy nicely sums up, maybe we should all “think before you retweet.

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