There is a saying in the media – ‘if it bleeds it leads’.
On the face of it, it’s a grim statement that vilifies many people’s perception of ‘the media’ as harbingers of negative, violent news.
However, a first-of-its kind study of Twitter published this month, begs the question – just who is directing the news?
Turns out it’s you and me.
The study, conducted by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and published in Science Magazine last week, analysed 126,000 stories tweeted by 3 million users over more than 10 years and found that fake news and false rumours reach more people, penetrate deeper into the social network and spread faster than accurate stories.
The study found that, on average, a false story reaches 1500 people six times quicker than a true story. Fake news about politics regularly does best.
While accurate news wasn’t able to chain together more than 10 retweets, fake news could put together a chain 19 links long and do it 10 times faster.
And, with Twitter bots amplifying true stories as much as false stories, the study concluded that humans, not robots, are more likely to spread fake news.
So, what is it about being human that locks us into these untruths?
The researchers found that fake news is more “novel” than true news, inspiring fear, disgust and surprise, whereas true stories inspired anticipation, sadness, joy and trust.
This plays into the hands of ‘negativity bias’ – our tendency to give more psychological weight to bad experiences than good ones.
Negativity bias is not a new concept. The media has long known that bad news stories sell better than good news stories.
But, in a world where people are increasingly sourcing their news from social media, the dissemination of news is literally in our hands.
The more we share and perpetuate these types of stories, the more they will get served up to us.
As ‘news directors’ we have the power to influence the spread of false rumours and untruths by consuming our news from reputable sources.
Yes, the media will continue to play into our negativity bias, but we will not be playing into the hands of fake news.
Julia brings a human element to communications, believing that everybody has a story to tell and that there is often a quirky and interesting angle to what they have to say. She’s achieved this at Blink in fields as diverse as the legal, energy, property and publishing industries.