It takes truth six times longer to make its way through social media than false claims. That is the conclusion of a study done by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Robinson 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 cannot compete with hoax and rumor. By every common metric, falsehood consistently dominates the truth on Twitter, the study finds: Fake news and false rumors reach more people, penetrate deeper into the social network, and spread much faster than accurate stories.
The researchers draw three conclusion as to why falsehoods spread so much faster than truth. First, our attention is captured by what is novel. “A baby has been born” is not nearly as interesting as “a baby has been born with three heads.”
Second, spreading novel information makes the one sharing appear to be “in the know,” having access to information no one else has. It’s like the reporter getting the exclusive story.
And third, and perhaps most important, people share falsehoods without fact-checking when such stories or quotes line up with their view of the world, their politics, and their religious beliefs. So people are quick to share quotes falsely attributed to the politician they dislike, and share pseudo-facts that give credence to their negative views on another religion. Psychologists refer to this as confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is something we all struggle with from time to time. We are drawn to sources of information that confirm what we already believe and tend to ignore those sources that challenge our convictions. It’s easier to exist in the echo chamber where everyone we talk to and everything we read just confirm us instead of challenge us. It seems as if social media is the place where truth dies a death by a thousand cuts.