"I realized that. a good chunk of what I was reading on social media was rumors", he added.
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. Responses to false news stories online prompted surprise and disgust, whereas replies to true stories evoked sadness, anticipation, joy and trust.
Meyer writes, "The massive new study analyzes every major contested news story in English across the span of Twitter's existence-some 126,000 stories, tweeted by 3 million users, over more than 10 years-and finds that the truth simply can not compete with hoax and rumor".
Even without bots, false news still spread at roughly the same rate and to the same number of people, leading the researchers to suggest that human psychology is responsible.
"People want to share information that is newsworthy - in some sense the truth value is less of a concern", he said.
The researchers also settled on the term "false news" as their object of study, as distinct from the now ubiquitous term "fake news", which involves multiple broad meanings. But we will have to look at the other side of the coin too, not only bots have played a major role in the activity, humans have played an equal role.
The researchers tracked about 126,000 cascades of news stories - that is, large chains of frequently retweeted pieces of content - on Twitter from 2006 to 2017.
For instance, the true news-related tweets rarely reached over 1,000 people.
Aral thinks that relevant success of false news stories on Twitter might have something to do with people's desire to say, and share, things that they find unusual or different. On the other hand, humans seem to have an inclination for sharing false news rather than facts.
The study provides a variety of ways of quantifying this phenomenon: For instance, false news stories are 70 percent more likely to be retweeted than true stories are. Researchers could, for example, do neural imaging to see what's being triggered inside people's brains when they see a viral fake news post to better understand what can be done to help.
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.
"The biggest single factor seems to be human nature, human behaviour", said co-author Deb Roy. Twitter provided its data for the research.
Nyhan and Lazer said that while more fact-checking and education of people on how to tell fake from real can be helpful, the more effective solution will have to come from the social media platforms themselves.
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