Twitter as “Hand Grenade”

Research … finds humans, not bots, are primarily responsible for spread of misleading information.

I have long thought that cable news/talk was a key contributor to the decline in our nation’s democratic discourse.  Cable channels cater to narrow, targeted demographics and the logic of television programming for the benefit of advertisers takes over. Nielsen share trumps nuance and truth.

We now face a new generational sea change in the sources of media erosion of our democracy — the Internet. Cyber makes up for in speed and virility what it lacks in editorial judgment and attention to facts.

Twitter as Rumor Mill

Recent research from MIT’s Media Lab identified the growing proliferation of false claims on Twitter (see chart below).

False Twitter Posts - NYT - 2018-03-10

Human Sources

Importantly, the sources of the proliferation of false information are…. wait for it …. primarily humans, not bots.

The report had several other findings that are disturbing to those of us enamored of truth.

  • False news stories are 70 percent more likely to be retweeted than true stories are
  • It takes true stories about six times as long to reach 1,500 people as it does for false stories to reach the same number of people
  • Regarding Twitter’s “cascades,” or unbroken retweet chains, falsehoods reach a cascade depth of 10 about 20 times faster than facts
  • Falsehoods are retweeted by unique users more broadly than true statements at every depth of cascade


You can read the Science article here.

You can watch a video on the genesis of this study here.