Why fraudulent news travels fastest

False news travels much faster online than the truth because of our craving for novelty. In the largest-ever study of how news spreads on social media, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology analysed 126,000 stories on Twitter from between 2006 and 2017. They found that false stories were 70% more likely to be retweeted than those that were true. True stories took six-times longer, on average, to reach an audience of 1,500 people.

One surprise was that automated robots – or bots – played no part in this discrepancy. “False news spreads more than the truth because humans, not robots, are more likely to spread it,” said the authors of the study, published in the journal Science. They concluded that the high visibility of false stories is not necessarily the result of malign intent: fake news is popular simply because people find it more surprising, intriguing or reassuring than the truth. “False news is novel, and people are more likely to share novel information,” said co-author Professor Sinan Aral. (The Week. 24 March 2018)

Aside from a small number of people paid by the oil companies to counter the facts, the scientific community wholeheartedly agree that the muck poured into the air over nearly 300 years since the start of the industrial revolution accounts for the rapidly warming world environment. This is arguably the greatest single threat to mankind and its future on the planet, and it will affect every living soul. And yet there is a substantial body of non-scientists who not only don’t believe in the cause of man- made climate change but are actually wrecking efforts to counter it. It must be reassuring to hear politicians and special interests on social media claim the change is natural because then you don’t have to actually do anything, in particular spend money. It is convenient to deny the facts, even if, in doing so, you’ll be wrecking the future of your children and grandchildren.

I write from Southern England, which has had the hottest summer I can ever remember, and no rain to mention. You have to live in la-la land to believe this is a normal weather fluctuation, but, of course, it is convenient to do so. Selfishness rules.

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