DISCOVERY

RESEARCH CONFIRMS FALSE RUMOURS REALLY DO TRAVEL FASTER AND FURTHER THAN THE TRUTH

Rumours always spread faster than the truth so the wise wait for the whole story. Rick Warren.

A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes. So says another popular saying.

“Fools believe everything they hear.” Biblical Proverbs 14:15.

We have always lived with the notion that all news travel the same, but a lie had already traveled a long way before the truth begins its journey.

According to reports from two recent projects that compared how falsehoods and truths spread. On average, it takes more than 12 hours for a false claim to be debunked online.

One study analyzed rumors on Twitter and found that a rumor that turns out to be true is often resolved within two hours of first emerging. But a rumor that proves false takes closer to 14 hours to be debunked.

A second study investigated how long it will take for an article debunking a lie to be published to counter a false story. It found the lag time to be approximately 13 hours between the hatching of the fake news to the factual debunking news.

From these, it has been clearly established that falsehoods spread for much longer hours and take hold before they are debunked compared to factual or news that is true.

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The studies used different methodologies and took into account the different elements of the online rumour and misinformation ecosystem. Both research groups say their findings highlight the need for better and faster approaches to countering online misinformation.

Project One: Rumours Tweets

A group at Warwick University gathered true and false rumors related to nine recent news events, including the shooting on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, the Charlie Hebdo shootings, and claims that emerged and spread when Russian President Vladimir Putin was not seen publicly for 10 days. (The BBC reported that “His disappearance from public view had sparked rumors that he might have fallen ill, died, been removed in a coup, or once again become a father.”)

They identified 330 rumors and gathered close to 5,000 tweets that mentioned the rumors. The team analyzed the content of the tweets to determine how they characterized the rumor — did they confirm, debunk or simply repeat the claim? They also examined whether the tweet was sent before or after the rumor’s veracity had been established. Not all 4,842 tweets were examined by hand, however, instead of selecting a subset of tweets for each rumor case study, with an emphasis on tweets that garnered a high number of retweets.

The researchers also had a group of journalists evaluate and annotate 2,695 rumorous tweets.

It was concluded from the data that true rumors are resolved much faster on Twitter than false rumors.

“While the median true rumor is resolved in about 2 hours, the median false rumor takes over 14 hours to be resolved,” They report.

It was also discovered that social media users spread tweets reporting unverified rumors much faster thus confirming an earlier report of a previous research that an unverified rumor holds more interest and generates more traffic and social shares. Also, a new rumor that offers the possibility of being true sparks immediate interest and doubles the traffic feed.

Project 2: Spread and debunking of Rumours

A second project is being carried out at Indiana University, to build Hoaxy, an automated system to analyze the spread of false narratives and the debunkings of them.

“Right now it’s a tool to give us a way to see how the competing information — misinformation and fact-checking —spread online,” says Fil Menczer, one of the leaders of the project.

The work on the system is still in its early stages. It can gather and index the content published by a list of known fake news websites and other sources of misinformation. Then it does the same for a set of fact-checking and debunking sites. They then match a debunk the originating story and study how each piece of content spreads through different networks.

“At first it will just be something where we can look at this network and extract some statistical features,” Menczer says. “The people who talk about a piece of fake news, and those who say it’s fake — are they far away in the network?”

So far they also have found out that clearly more misinformation is being produced and at a more scale than the related debunks.

There is a small industry of fake news websites which publish fake content on a daily basis, aimed at generating and monetizing web traffic. While fact-checking is a growing field, it still produces less content on average than the fakers. It can’t keep up”. Menczer says.

Taken together, these observations strongly suggest that rumor-mongering is dominated by few very active accounts that bear the brunt of the promotion and spreading of misinformation, whereas the propagation of fact-checking is a more distributed, grass-roots activity,” they report.

Both projects also recognized the need for more work to be done to better understand the issue and a solution that is needed to remedy the situation.

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