Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology analysed around 126,000 news stories tweeted by 3m people more than 4.5m times between 2006 and 2017. They also said the problem is particularly intractable because some research has found that repeating a lie to correct it can actually ingrain false information in the mind.
The data is revealing: Those tweets that were relaying true news stories would rarely be shared by 1000 Twitter users, but false news stories were routinely reaching 10,000 people.
That fits perfectly with previous research on the psychology of fake information, said Yale University's Dan Kahan and Dartmouth College's Brendan Nyhan, scientists who study the phenomenon.
The indictment of 13 Russians in the operation of a "troll farm" that spread false information related to the 2016 USA presidential election has renewed the spotlight on the power of "fake news" to influence public opinion.
While bots have often been blamed for the spread of inaccurate news, the team found that they're not always behind the swift spread of false news.
It was sparked by the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, when Vosoughi realized much of what he was reading on social media amounted to rumors.
For the past number of years, propaganda and misinformation has been festering on platforms like Twitter, as numerous outlets and individuals prey on preconceived notions and inflammatory content to glean clicks from users.
For its study, the MIT team perused six fact-checking Web sites-snopes.com, politifact.com, factcheck.org, truthorfiction.com, hoax-slayer.com and urbanlegends.about.com-for common news stories and rumors those sites had examined. Until this study, few large-scale empirical investigations of the diffusion of false news or its social origins had existed. Choosing the bogus stories requires a thinking human, as it turns out.
The researchers, which included LSM director Deb Roy, began looking at Twitter "cascades" (unbroken retweet chains) and charting their spread.
Although the effect of fake news stories on Twitter was most pronounced for political topics, the trend held true for most any topic - driving home the fact that fake news inherently has the potential to influence in a variety of sectors, perhaps due to the reactions it causes in its viewers.
"The spreaders of fake news are using increasingly sophisticated methods", Menczer said in a statement.
These days it seems as if there's fake news at every turn. Send the list to Twitter and get them kicked off.
False news about politics spread to 20,000 people nearly three times more quickly than any other kind of false news was able to reach just 10,000 people.
Here's something to think about: untruthful news is 70 percent more likely to be retweeted on Twitter than true news, according to brand new research - and bots may not be to blame.
At an individual level, Aral says people need to be more skeptical about what they pass on.
There are no easy fixes to solve false news on the internet, Aral said.
"This was one of the two surprising findings", Aral said, noting the other unexpected finding was the sheer speed in which false news stories spread faster than true news stories.