When you search for news on the Internet, you often get misleading information, including false news and conspiracy theories.
These fake news stories can cause serious problems for the public.
This is especially true for people in areas with high levels of social tension, such as the Middle East, Asia and Latin America, according to researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology and the University of Oxford.
For example, a false claim about the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989 can cause people to fear and mistrust one another.
The researchers say that if false rumors spread, it can have a destabilizing effect.
“People feel alienated and unsafe,” says Christian Wiese, a doctoral student at the Max-Planck Institute and the lead author of a new paper about the effects of misinformation on social networks.
Wieses and colleagues examined the role of social networks and misinformation in predicting news coverage in more than 150 countries from 2014 to 2020.
They found that social media networks had an important role in spreading misinformation, but they also showed that they had important roles in the production of real news.
For instance, false information that was circulated on social media was more likely to be confirmed by other news sources and to be picked up by social media users.
“Our findings show that misinformation has an important influence on the propagation of news and its quality,” says Wiesi.
“That is, misinformation spreads more quickly than real news and is thus more dangerous.”
To understand how misinformation spreads, the researchers looked at the data from the Social Networks of Global Media (SMGL) project, which tracks the number of news stories posted and retweets of fake news.
They used a social network analysis tool to identify the stories that most closely resembled real news articles, such that people shared them.
The scientists then compared the articles and retweeted them to the real articles.
They then compared them to fake news articles that were either retweeting the same article or that were fake.
They also looked at whether the retweaks or retweaps affected the accuracy of the articles.
The fake news was more often picked up and shared by the right people and by news outlets that promoted the article.
“The more retweaked and shared, the more it is retweeted and shared,” says Stefan Kuehl, an expert in the study at the Institute for Social Research at the University Of Duisburg-Essen in Germany.
For the fake articles, the authors also looked for retweakers and retorters, which is where people who retweet and/or retweet real news stories become more influential than those who retweet or retweet the fake stories.
“These people have more influence on spreading the fake story,” says Kuehel.
The results showed that false information was more easily accepted and shared among social media platforms than real information, so the spread of misinformation was influenced by the popularity of the fake information and by the number and quality of retweaters and retouchers.
The authors say that they will continue to study the effect of social network platforms on fake news and that more work is needed to understand the impact of misinformation.
“If social networks are the main source of misinformation, we should take more measures to improve the quality of the information,” Wies, the Max Institute researcher, says.