If ever there was a time to double check articles on Snopes, it's now. "Fake news" truly earned its spot as the word of the year in 2017, and--according to a recent study published in Science magazine--it's spreading faster than facts (by a scary amount).

The study analyzed tweets from 2006-2017, specifically 126,000 stories (all debunked by fact-checking agencies) tweeted by about three million people more than 4.5 million times. The spread of these stories was compared to the spread of stories that were determined to be true by fact-checking agencies, and fake news spread both more quickly and farther than the true stories.

Not only was a fake news item 70 percent more likely to be retweeted than real news, but also the top 1 percent of fake news ultimately reached between 1,000 and 100,000 people (while the truth rarely reached more than 1,000 people). It will come as no surprise that the category of fake news that was most likely to spread was politics, which beat out fake news about terrorism, natural disasters, science, urban legends, or financial information.

And we can't even blame technology for this one! While it's tempting to blame robots with a faulty algorithm (sounds logical), there was no difference in how robots spread facts and fake news. Instead, humans were more likely to share fake news--likely influenced by the degree of novelty and the emotional impact of the news item.

So what can we do? I'm not ready to go the "delete Facebook" route just yet, but I'm also a far cry from "trust Facebook implicitly." Before clicking share and contributing to the spread, we each have to become individual fact-checking agencies using credible, unbiased sources. Fortunately, Google has made a pledge (and action) to combat fake news, which will make it easier to sort out the lies--at least in search.

Published on: Jun 27, 2018