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This Is How Social Media Became a Breeding Place for Fake News

Data scientists have recently made significant progress in understanding the spread and consumption of information, its effect on opinion formation, and the ways people influence one another. Advances in technology have made it possible to exploit the deluge of data from social media—the traces that people use as they choose, share and comment online—to study social dynamics at a high level of resolution.

Social media is the most effective tool to disseminate information, and disinformation travels the fastest. Most recently, fake news of the deadly coronavirus has been spreading like wildfire on social media, also stoking racist, anti-Chinese sentiment.

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Outside of false information about political candidates, social media is getting used to spread fear — and misinformation — about the coronavirus. The outbreak, which originated within the Chinese city of Wuhan, is now considered a public health emergency.

“The recent pneumonia virus is widely compared to SARS in 2003. The economic cost of a virus is generally from the fear of the disease, not the disease itself. Seventeen years ago social media was essentially non-existent. Social media today gives more opportunities to spread fear. That fear may lead to economic change, which may be costly. The biggest problem is that economists struggle to fight these risks,” Donovan, the UBS chief economist wrote in his blog post.

In response to misinformation about the coronavirus, Twitter has created a new search prompt to direct users to credible information about it.

How does this happen? 

According to a 2018 MIT study, false news is 70% more likely to be retweeted than true stories, which take nearly sixfold as long to achieve 1,500 people because it does for false stories to achieve the identical number of individuals.

According to a 2018 MIT study, false news is 70% more likely to be retweeted than true stories, which take nearly Facebook is far and away from the worst perpetrator when it involves spreading fake news. Worse than Google. Worse than Twitter. And worse than webmail providers like AOL, Yahoo!, and Gmail.

Facebook is by far the worst perpetrator when it comes to spreading fake news. Worse than Google. Worse than Twitter. And worse than webmail providers such as AOL, Yahoo!, and Gmail.

This is according to a new study published in the journal Nature: Human Behavior.

A team of researchers led by Andrew Guess of Princeton University tracked the internet use of over 3000 Americans in the lead up to the 2016 presidential election. They found Facebook to be the referrer site for untrustworthy news sources over 15% of the time. By contrast, Facebook referred users to authoritative news sites only 6% of the time.

The authors state, “This pattern of differential Facebook visits immediately prior to untrustworthy website visits is not observed for Google (3.3% untrustworthy news versus 6.2% hard news) or Twitter (1% untrustworthy versus 1.5% hard news).”

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How much do fake news websites actually influence people’s political views and voting decisions? 

This, the authors admit, is harder to estimate — but they believe it has a smaller impact than is widely believed.

For one, they note that changing a voter’s mind is an incredibly difficult feat. By one estimate, only 1-3 people out of every 10,000 change their vote choice in response to seeing a political advertisement on television. 

Instead, those seeking out fake news via Facebook and other referrer platforms are likely visiting those sites as a way to reaffirm already existing beliefs and opinions.

In addition to the billions of human beings using social media, there are also millions of robots, or bots, residing within. Bots help to propagate fake news and inflate the apparent popularity of fake news on social media.

Social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) have become home to millions of social bots that spread fake news. According to an estimate in 2017, there were 23 million bots on Twitter (around 8.5% of all accounts), 140 million bots on Facebook (up to 5.5% of accounts) and around 27 million bots on Instagram (8.2% of the accounts) [1]. A hundred and ninety million bots on just three social media platforms – more than half the number of people who live in the entire USA!

They simulate the behaviour of human beings in a social network: interact with other users, and share information and messages. Because of the algorithms behind bots’ logic, bots can learn from response patterns or input values on how to respond to certain situations. That is, they possess artificial intelligence (AI). 

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Image source: www.drbrianstork.com

Artificial intelligence allows bots to simulate internet users’ behaviour (e.g., posting patterns) which helps in the propagation of fake news. For instance, on Twitter, bots are capable of a number of social interactions that make them appear to be regular people. They respond to postings or questions from others based on scripts that they were programmed to use. They look for influential Twitter users (Twitter users who have lots of followers) and contact them by sending them questions in order to be noticed and generate trust from them and from other Twitter users who see the exchanges take place. They also generate debate by posting messages about trending topics–Twitter always shows users what’s trending–by hunting for and repeating, information about the topic that they find on other websites

How to Combat Fake News on Social Media?

The only way to fight down fake news on social media platforms is to try and understand the intentions of the poster online and also of the social media platform itself. You need to keep in mind, the very fact that social media apps make a lot of money by selling user data to ad companies which at the end of the day shows you ads which are tailored according to your interests and search history as well.

At the end of the day, it’s impossible to avoid fake news but what you can do is to maintain a healthy level of curiosity for the news and others things that are showcased on your feed, don’t dwell into them too much.

Social media can be a very powerful tool, for both businesses and individuals when used with the understanding that it is not infallible.

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Drashti

Drashti is a free-spirited person, who loves writing stories and listening to music. She loves learning and exploring new languages and cultures, and makes sure to click a picture of the same for her Memoir.
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