Fake news may be a bigger problem than we thought, with a new study revealing worrying evidence that most of us actually play an active role in spreading rumours and misinformation on social media.
According to the research, published in the journal Natural Hazards, 86 to 91 per cent of a sample Twitter audience of 20,000 spread news later proven to be false by either retweeting or liking it.
Researchers examined four false rumours – two each from the Boston Marathon and Hurricane Sandy, including an infamous falsehood about the New York Stock Exchange flooding.
They looked at three types of behaviour. Twitter users could either spread the false news, seek to confirm it, or cast doubt upon it. They found that 86 to 91 per cent fell into the former category by helping to spread the news.
Only five to nine per cent looked to confirm the news themselves – usually by asking through a retweet if the information was genuine. Just one to nine per cent looked to publicly cast doubt on the source by stating the news was not accurate.
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“To the best of our knowledge, this is the first study to investigate how apt Twitter users are at debunking falsehoods during disasters,” said Jun Zhuang, associate professor at the University at Buffalo in New York. “Unfortunately, the results paint a less than flattering picture.”
“These findings are important because they show how easily people are deceived during times when they are most vulnerable and the role social media platforms play in these deceptions,” said Zhuang.
It’s probably not a surprise that fewer than 10 per cent of users who retweeted the fictitious original tweet later went back and deleted their retweet once the news had been debunked.