Less than 10 percent of Twitter users questioned fake news, study suggests

Think your gut is good at warning you of potential fake news? Think again — a new study from the University at Buffalo found that less than ten percent of Twitter users expressed doubt when responding to a false tweet. The study, published on May 11 in the journal Natural Hazards, examined Twitter’s response to four different rumors during two disasters — the Boston Marathon Bombing and Hurricane Sandy — by examining 20,000 related tweets.

Only between one to nine percent of the Twitter users that responded to the false rumors expressed doubt at the accuracy of the information. The most common response within that small percentage was to say that the original tweet wasn’t accurate. The number of users that retweeted or wrote comments to try to confirm the information was almost just as small, making up between five to nine percent of those tweets.

The largest group instead helped spread the misinformation — between 86 and 91 percent of the users in the study retweeted or liked the original post.

The topic of fake news has sparked a number of academic studies, including an MIT study inspired by the researcher’s experience during the Boston Marathon bombing that found inaccurate tweets were 70 percent more likely to get a retweet. For its part, the University at Buffalo study looks at how easily social media users can detect inaccurate tweets.

“To the best of our knowledge, this is the first study to investigate how apt Twitter users are at debunking falsehoods during disasters,” Jun Zhuang, Ph.D, the lead author of the study and an associate professor, said. “Unfortunately, the results paint a less than flattering picture.”

The researchers also looked at what happened when the rumors were proven false, and found that less than 10 percent went back to delete their tweet and less than 20 percent shared the debunking in a new tweet.

Because the study only looked at tweets, retweets, comments and likes, the group couldn’t determine how many users didn’t interact with the rumor, noting that ignoring the tweet could also be a response from users that doubted the accuracy of the information.

The group also noted that Twitter, along with other media platforms, was quick to correct misinformation on those tweets in the study.

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