Subsequently, after consultation with Aral - another of Vosoughi's graduate advisors, who has studied social networks extensively - the three researchers chose to try the approach used in the new study: objectively identifying news stories as true or false, and charting their Twitter trajectories. "Whereas false stories inspired fear, disgust, and surprise in replies, true stories inspired anticipation, sadness, joy, and trust".
"We found that false news was more novel than true news, which suggests that people were more likely to share novel information".
The study also found that automated "bots" were not a major factor in the spread of false news stories.
"False news is more novel, and people are more likely to share novel information", one of the study's co-authors, Professor Sinan Aral, quantified.
"People want to share information that is newsworthy - in some sense the truth value is less of a concern", he said. "Whereas if it were just bots, we would need a technological solution".
Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology looked at more than 126,000 stories tweeted millions of times between 2006 and the end of 2016 - before Donald Trump took office but during the combative presidential campaign.
"Twitter became our main source of news", Vosoughi said in a statement.
The bottom-line findings produce a basic question: Why do falsehoods spread more quickly than the truth, on Twitter?More news: Ford Mustang California Special Gets Updates Inside and Out
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"Whereas the truth rarely diffused to more than 1,000 people, the top one per cent of false-news cascades routinely diffused to between 1,000 and 100,000 people", the paper says.
Overall, falsehoods were 70% more likely to be retweeted than the truth. Congress and the FBI are investigating evidence that Russian and other foreign users deliberately flooded social media with untrue reports and posts meant to mislead people about political candidates.
They call for more high-quality research into the false news problem and what can be done about it, pointing to reforms in the early 20th century that gave rise to legitimate newspapers with ethics promoting objectivity and credibility out of the ashes of a boisterous yellow press. They believe people retweet stories online they find new and different from other commonly shared items on their feed.
The relationship allowed the MIT researchers something that few academics have: access to Twitter's raw data firehose, a historical archive of every tweet ever made, including those that have been deleted.
Platforms such as Twitter and Facebook are under big pressure to do more to stop the spread of fake news.
"It is really challenging to get access to enough data that is comprehensive enough that we can say things conclusively", says Elizabeth Dubois, an assistant professor at the University of Ottawa who has studied the presence of political bots in Canada.