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On Twitter, lies outrun the truth

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Programming note: Standing on the very precipice of ISSUE ONE HUNDRED, The Interface is going on Spri
 
March 8 · Issue #99 · View online
The Interface
Programming note: Standing on the very precipice of ISSUE ONE HUNDRED, The Interface is going on Spring Break! I’m managing The Verge’s team on the ground in Austin at SXSW and won’t be able to bring you the day’s news for a week. I am very sad about this but know I will feel recharged when I return to you on Monday, March 19. I reserve the right to abandon Spring Break early if the social-media world turns upside down. Otherwise I’ll see you on the 19th — and doing a bit more hey-look-at-this retweeting on Twitter, if you miss me. 
Today’s big story is that a lie gets halfway around the world before the truth can put its shoes on. That quote is usually attributed to Mark Twain, but it’s also a lie — one that has been circling the globe since about 1919. Whatever the provenance of the quote, it has new data to support it. Here’s my colleague Angela Chen in The Verge on an important new study:
In a paper published today in the journal Science, researchers analyzed the spread of all the stories verified (as either true or false) by six fact-checking organizations from 2006 to 2017. The analysis shows that false political news spreads more quickly than any other kind, like news about natural disasters or terrorism, and predictably, it spikes during events like the 2012 and 2016 US presidential elections. (The researchers deliberately use the term “false news” because “fake news” is too politicized, they write.) Though the Twitter accounts that spread untruthful stories were likely to have fewer followers and tweet less than those sharing real news, false news still spreads quickly because it is seen as novel, the study says.
First, the researchers went to six fact-checking organizations and pulled out all the news stories they had verified as true or false. (The six orgs were Snopes, PolitiFact, FactCheck, Truth or Fiction, Hoax Slayer, and Urban Legends.) Next, the researchers — who had access to the entire Twitter archive — looked for mentions of these stories on the social media site. Each time they found a mention, they would try to determine whether that mention was the original tweet, or if it was replying to or repeating a different tweet. That way, they could trace the origin of the story, and then track the ways that the information spread through Twitter. Ultimately, their dataset included about 126,000 stories tweeted by 3 million people more than 4.5 million times.
Their analysis shows that true news rarely spread to more than 1,000 people, but the top 1 percent of false news could spread to as many as 100,000. This wasn’t because the accounts tweeting false news were particularly influential, but because we’re more likely to share news that seems interesting and new. “Novel information is thought to be more valuable than redundant information,” says study co-author Sinan Aral, a professor of management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “People who spread novel information gain social status because they’re thought to be ‘in the know’ or to have inside information.”
Over at Vox, Brian Resnick takes an in-depth look at how novelty drives so much social-media sharing — and how fake news capitalizes on that fact:
“False news was significantly more novel than true news,” Aral says. “And that makes sense — when you are unconstrained by reality, you can come up with much more novel information.” A sentiment analysis in the Science paper revealed that replies to false news tweets contained more expressions of surprise or disgust than true news. And perhaps that’s why fake celebrity deaths so often pervade Twitter: They’re surprising, emotional, irresistible to share.
And this “novelty” hypothesis has been shown in other studies. In a 2017 paper that Rand co-authored, when participants see headlines repeated, they’re more likely to believe them (a consequence of what’s known as the illusory truth effect), but less likely to share them on social media. Other research has found that the more morally or emotionally charged a tweet, the more likely it is to spread within a particular ideological group.
Where does that leave us? Aside from a few bromides to “think before you share,” I’m not really sure. I hardly know a reporter who hasn’t shared something on Twitter they found out later not to be true, much less an average citizen. This is one reason why Farhad Manjoo argued yesterday that we should just wait for the next day’s paper to come out, though I suspect that few who read this newsletter will feel as if they have that luxury.
In the Atlantic, Robinson Meyer speaks for the crowd:
In short, social media seems to systematically amplify falsehood at the expense of the truth, and no one—neither experts nor politicians nor tech companies—knows how to reverse that trend. It is a dangerous moment for any system of government premised on a common public reality. 

Democracy
In Sri Lanka, Facebook Contends With Shutdown After Mob Violence
Meet the campaign connecting affluent techies with progressive candidates around the country
Russian Trolls Tried to Torpedo Mitt Romney’s Shot at Secretary of State
Most major outlets have used Russian tweets as sources for partisan opinion: study
Without Facebook, The West Virginia Teachers’ Strike Might Not Have Happened
A judge may soon decide whether Trump must unblock people on Twitter
The next social media hearings may be about gun violence
Josh Hawley’s Missouri Senate Bid Could Be a Problem for Google
Elsewhere
Twitter may eventually let anyone become verified
Twitter says it will stop cryptocurrency scams by removing manipulative accounts
Twitter taps distinguished engineer Parag Agrawal as new CTO
Snap Confirms Layoffs Totaling 120 Engineers
Student group protests Apple over “addictive devices”
Oculus brings Rift VR headsets back to life with a software fix
Launches
Snapchat finally adds @ mention tagging
Takes
Ben Grosser’s “Demetricator” will change how you think about Twitter and Facebook.
And finally ...
The Vatican Hosts a Hackathon
Talk to me
Questions? Comments? Austin recommendations? casey@theverge.com 
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