Falsehoods penetrate further, faster, and deeper than accurate information on Twitter: Massive MIT study

A March 8, 2018 Atlantic Monthly article is entitled: “The Grim Conclusions of the Largest-Ever Study of Fake News: Falsehoods almost always beat out the truth on Twitter, penetrating further, faster, and deeper into the social network than accurate information.”

An abstract of the Science article, on which the Atlantic Monthly article is based, reads as follows:

Lies spread faster than the truth

There is worldwide concern over false news and the possibility that it can influence political, economic, and social well-being. To understand how false news spreads, Vosoughi et al. used a data set of rumor cascades on Twitter from 2006 to 2017. About 126,000 rumors were spread by [approximately] 3 million people. False news reached more people than the truth; the top 1% of false news cascades diffused to between 1000 and 100,000 people, whereas the truth rarely diffused to more than 1000 people. Falsehood also diffused faster than the truth. The degree of novelty and the emotional reactions of recipients may be responsible for the differences observed.


Please note: If you want to print out the above-mentioned Science article, it’s a good idea to locate the print icon, at the webpage, and print it out from there. In fact, for your convenience, here’s the PDF file that you get when you click on the latter icon:


‘Firehose of Falsehood’ propaganda model

The above-noted study brings to mind a 2016 RAND Corporation article, entitled: “The Russian ‘Firehose of Falsehood’ Propaganda Model: Why It Might Work and Options to Counter It.” You can find the article by pointing your browser to the above-noted title.


I found the above-mentioned, Twitter-related article of interest because I’ve been thinking about how, 30 years ago, I became acutely aware of the value of a data-driven approach, when applied to a particular concern that I had been seeking to address for many years.

In the late 1980s, that is, I became aware of the value of evidence, and also of evidence-based practice, in the health sciences and other realms of life.

The above-noted March 8, 2018 Atlantic Monthly article shares an evidence-based overview regarding how Twitter works. The research results are interesting and not surprising.

The article confirms that an interest in evidence is not necessarily going to be shared by a great many people. About the only times that evidence makes its presence known, in a way that even non-believers in evidence take note, are in exceptional circumstances. Under such conditions, rhetoric recedes and reality obtrudes. At such times, rare as they are, reality speaks its own language and creates its own narrative.

Scams and scamming

With regard to falsehoods, a related topic concerns how best to address attempts, which unfortunately are on some occasions successful, at scamming, in a wide range of contexts:

Click here for previous posts about scams and scamming >

Your smartphone may be broadcasting false news about your nose

With reference to the distinction between truthful and false news, a March 1, 2018 Guardian article is entitled: “Does my nose look big in this? Plastic surgeons reassure those worried by selfies: Pictures taken close to the face distort the proportions of your features, study emphasises.” The article notes that your smartphone may be broadcasting false news about your nose.

Stage magic

A related topic concerns stage magic and what it reveals about perception.

In that context, a March 2018 CBC article referring to a  March 18, 2018 CBC briadcast is entitled: The science of magic: What magic has taught us about how the brain works.”

Click here for previous posts about magic >

Additional related topics include propaganda and public relations.

Click here for previous posts about propaganda >

Click here for previous posts about public relations >


An Oct. 6, 2017 Guardian article is entitled: “‘Our minds can be hijacked’: the tech insiders who fear a smartphone dystopia: Google, Twitter and Facebook workers who helped make technology so addictive are disconnecting themselves from the internet. Paul Lewis reports on the Silicon Valley refuseniks alarmed by a race for human attention.

A March 15, 2018 Nieman Lab article is entitled: “Soft power — not government censorship — is the key to fighting disinformation and ‘fake news’: ‘For a soft power approach to disinformation to work, it is critical that all stakeholders do in fact work together…If it fails, cruder responses may be the only ones left. But let’s hope not.'”

A March 11, 2018 CBC article is entitled: “Fake videos are disturbing and getting easier to make.”

A March 30, 2018 Scientific American article is entitled: “Cambridge Analytica and Online Manipulation: It’s not just about data protection; it’s about strategies designed to induce addictive behavior, and thus to manipulate.”


An Oct. 18, 2019 Daily Hampshire Gazette article is entitled: “Guest column Andrea Ayvazian: Lying and its unrelenting damage.”

An excerpt reads:

Bok’s words burrowed deep inside me — her book about lying is one of the seminal books that shaped my thinking as a 20-something. One line from her conclusion made a particularly strong impression on me: “Trust and integrity are precious resources, easily squandered, hard to regain. They can thrive only on a foundation of respect for veracity.”

I clung to the Bok book through my many moves as a young adult, packing and unpacking it as I relocated from state to state and apartment to apartment. But somewhere along the way I lost the book. This week I went to the library and took the Bok book off the shelf.

There was everything I remembered — the chapter headings, the quotes from Augustine, Aquinas, Kant, Bonhoeffer, Shakespeare, Tolstoy, and Freud, the discussions of white lies, excuses, lies in a crisis, lying to liars, lying to enemies, lies to protect peers and clients, lies for the public good and lies to the sick and dying.

When I first read the Bok book in 1979, I was not a stranger to the idea of political deception because I had been in college during the Vietnam War. The web of lies that entangled so many elected officials during that war and eventually brought down a president were familiar to me, and part of my coming of age as an activist.

But Bok’s book stirred something new inside me. Her words and examples page after page made me realize the deeply corrosive nature of lying and lies. Like the drip, drip, drip of acid on metal, lying eats away at trust, confidence, faith and resilience between and among individuals, families, communities, and even an entire country.


0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *