Endless Curiosity: The Science of Fake News

There’s always been fake news —
rumors, hoaxes, propaganda. But now, the world runs faster than ever,
and communication is easier than ever. Anyone with a smartphone and Twitter account
can shout their message to the world. But, how does misinformation spread? Who shares these messages? How do you track false information as it
ricochets throughout a social network? Indiana University data scientists, led by Filippo Menczer, are building
tools to answer these questions. They’re the creators of the Observatory
on Social Media, or OSoMe, which houses tools such as Hoaxy, that
lets anyone trace the path of a rumor or hashtag as it spreads on Twitter. Another OSoMe tool, Botometer,
lets you see if your new friend is a fake, a bot, or real. Using what they had learned
on real social networks, the researchers then created their
own simulated social network, where they could control
the flow of information. It’s a bit like how meteorologists
predict the weather. But, rather than testing how winds or
temperatures affect weather patterns, they tested different user ratios and
information types. Fill up your simulated social network
with a small amount of true and false information, and your simulated
users will share the truth, mostly. But load up that system with noise, and your simulated social media
users get stressed out. They start to share information
indiscriminately, so false information can go viral as well. That’s especially true if you’ve
got a bunch of loud-mouthed bots, which are automated accounts not run
by people, drowning out everyone else. The lesson? Information overload
makes your share junk. So what can you do? Think before you click.
Read the story, not the headline. If it sounds unbelievable, Google it. And don’t just follow people
who already agree with you. Also, share this video! Honestly.