The science of fake news gets a boost

On March 9, 2018, the largest-yet study of fake news was published in Science. Accompanying it was a second article in Science, in which scientists called for:

… interdisciplinary research to reduce the spread of fake news and to address the underlying pathologies it has revealed.

The large study is titled The Spread of True and False News OnlineSoroush Vosoughi of MIT was its lead author, working with co-authors Deb Roy and Sinan Aral. All of these researchers work in MIT’s Laboratory for Social Machines; that is, they’re trained to study and ultimately understand what most of us find unfathomable, the spread of information online.

They found that: Falsehood also diffused faster than the truth. The degree of novelty and the emotional reactions of recipients may be responsible for the differences observed.

They explained their study in its abstract:

We investigated the differential diffusion of all of the verified true and false news stories distributed on Twitter from 2006 to 2017. The data comprise ~126,000 stories tweeted by ~3 million people more than 4.5 million times. We classified news as true or false using information from six independent fact-checking organizations that exhibited 95 to 98% agreement on the classifications.

Falsehood diffused significantly farther, faster, deeper, and more broadly than the truth in all categories of information, and the effects were more pronounced for false political news than for false news about terrorism, natural disasters, science, urban legends, or financial information. We found that false news was more novel than true news, which suggests that people were more likely to share novel information. Whereas false stories inspired fear, disgust, and surprise in replies, true stories inspired anticipation, sadness, joy, and trust. Contrary to conventional wisdom, robots accelerated the spread of true and false news at the same rate, implying that false news spreads more than the truth because humans, not robots, are more likely to spread it.

ALTZAR: We did not need a new scientific study to determine that fake news travels faster than truth. I remember saying the saying – “good news travels fast, but bad news travels much faster” – in my seminars, speeches and reports to executive business audiences since more than three decades ago (here’s one example from 2003).

The only “new news” here is that someone has quantified it and explained the reason readers innately thirst for bad news.

According to Psychology Today, for every seventeen negative news reports, there is only one positive report (see 


Here’s one opinion:

“The media caters to the interests of its audiences. Therefore, the reason the media is plagued with celebrity scandals, natural disasters, political corruption, and more is because of consumer pessimism, our innate desire for dramatic, negative news.

This stems from our primal desires during the hunter-gatherer era, where negative or threatening news was demanded in the case of possible danger. As animals, our top priority is to survive and if we were to subsist in the wild, any possible threat around us must be known in order to retain our existence. Neurologically, the negative part of the brain is far more sensitive than the positive. When the negative part is triggered, stress hormones are released, so you become completely absorbed in fear.”

For more on the new scientific study, check out…

ALTZAR’S comment on the fake news study:

Great work! I have been following the emergence of fake news since before that term was invented. Over 28 years ago I formed the Truth in Media, a non-profit, whose mission was to debunk such reports ( and (2013-current). That’s just a little longer than the age of the Internet. So the study’s comment that the Internet has been largely responsible for explosion of fake news stories is spot on.

But we must not lose sight of the fact that the Internet has also been responsible for delivering the truth to much larger audiences than was the case a few decades ago. As with everything in life, you get chaff with the wheat. It is up to the reader to separate the two.

Alas, because of another social trend that has been happening in parallel to the spread of fake news – the “Dumbing Down of America” (… – my Washington Times, column, Aug 1997), the masses are now more gullible and thus ill-equipped to separate the wheat from the chaff in the news. Therein lies the real harm the fake news avalanche causes.


  1. Good article. We opine that the periodical, Science, and some members of the scientific community appear to have a problem with “fake” science as in the fact that so-called manmade global warming is not “settled science”. Who can we trust these days?

    1. Answer to your last question: Yourself.

      There is an old Serbian proverb that says you san only trust “u se i u svoje kljuse.” Loosely translated it means, you can only trust “in yourself and your nag.” (nag = horse).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s