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False News Spread Faster & Sell Better Than Scientific Speeches

Why is that? In addition to the well-orchestrated and targeted fake news campaigns using bot farms, we are also all responsible as human nature is unconsciously drawn to sharing falsehood. As social media users, we do have the tendency to want to share certain news more than others and false stories have greater novelty, produce greater surprise and disgust, and therefore generate more engagement in likes and comments.

To shed some light on why false news spread fast on social media, researchers at MIT developed a theoretical model of a Twitter-like social network to study how news is shared and explore situations where a non-credible news item will spread more widely than the truth. Agents in the model are driven by a desire to persuade others to take on their point of view: The key assumption in the model is that people bother to share something with their followers if they think it is persuasive and likely to move others closer to their mindset. Otherwise, they won’t share.

The researchers found that in such a setting when a network is highly connected or the views of its members are sharply polarized, news that is likely to be false will spread more widely and travel deeper into the network than news with higher credibility.

This theoretical work could inform empirical studies of the relationship between news credibility and the size of its spread, which might help social media companies adapt networks to limit the spread of false information.


As a matter of fact, conspiracy is a complex phenomenon, born from the meeting between 3 favorable temperaments: – it can be a rebellious, idealistic or fearful spirit – a moment of personal vulnerability, whether emotional, professional or medical – and an ecosystem that serves as an entry point such as the Internet, the circle of friends or colleague, etc… As such, faced with seductive theories, some may more easily fall down the “rabbit hole”.

What’s more dangerous than false information, is the mixture of true and false. Contemporary conspiracy theory feeds on real, documented scandals, such as the fake weapons of mass destruction in Iraq or the data manipulation of the “Lancet Gate”, which it extrapolates to support a paranoid representation of the world. Meanwhile, scientific discourse is more frustrating because it is complex, cautious and sometimes contradictory. An honest and rigorous scientist accepts the existence of a part of the uncertainty in his discourse, which is a fantastic call for any form of the alternative explanatory model, based on a simple and convenient interpretation.

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