Once again, I return to the subject of “fake news”; this time because of a recent study just published in Science on March 8, 2108.  The study- conducted by 3 MIT scholars- Soroush Vosough, Deb Roy and Sinan Aral – found that “… false news spreads more rapidly on the social network Twitter than real news does- and by a substantial margin.” (MIT news at 1.)

The study stems from the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings; much of the news about the casualties and aftermath appeared on Twitter. Mr. Vosough (a postdoctoral student) soon realized that much of what he was reading on Twitter was false and so with the help of his graduate advisor, Deb Roy (an associate professor of media arts and sciences at MIT) decided to focus his PhD “… on a model that could predict the falsity of rumors on Twitter.”   (Id. at 2.)

After consulting with Sinan Aral (the David Austin Professor of Management at MIT Sloan) who was also an advisor, the three researchers decided to track roughly 126,000 cascades of news stories appearing on Twitter.  They categorized each story as true or false and then followed them as they were tweeted and re-tweeted over 4.5 million times by about 3 million people. (Id.)

Not surprisingly, they found the biggest category of the tweets involved politics (about 46, 000) followed by “… urban legends, business, terrorism, science, entertainment and natural disasters.” (Id.)

Additionally, they found that false news was re-tweeted about 70% more of the time than true news. It also took true stories about six times as long to reach the same number of people as did the false news. In terms of re-tweets, the false news traveled 10-20 times faster than the true news.  (Id.)

Why? The researchers surmised that it is the result of human nature.  People like new things (Id.) and false news tends to be novel and so people want to be the first to share it and appear to be “in the know”. (Id at 2-3.)

The researchers also looked at the emotional profile of those tweeting true news and fake news and found that people responded with surprise and disgust at the fake news stories but responded with sadness, anticipation and trust to the true news stories. (Id. at 3.)

So, how does this connect to dispute resolution? It is a cautionary tale: be careful in using social media to investigate and uncover “facts”.  Much is made today of the use of social media as evidence for trials or even for use in a mediation or arbitration. This study is a reminder that there is a lot of “fake news” out there and if one is not careful, a party’s misplaced reliance on social media to ferret out the “truth” may simply be a house of cards that easily crumbles.

… Just something to think about.




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