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Importance of Information Literacy Highlighted as Major Study Shows Fake News Spreads Faster Than Real News

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The danger of fake news online has been highlighted in a major new study by academics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab. The study, titled, ‘The spread of true and false news online’, and published in the journal, ‘Science’, looked at how fake news stories were disseminated through Twitter over the whole life of the service, from 2006 to 2017, finding that fake news spreads further and faster than real news.

The danger of fake news and unreliable information online is a topic that is rarely far from discussion, especially in the light of alleged state involvement in spreading misinformation. Interestingly, the study points to a less significant role for bots, automated scripts masquerading as real users, in promoting fake news over the lifetime of Twitter. While it does not draw conclusions about the potentially growing influence of bots on Twitter, it suggests that bots disseminate real and fake news at the same rate.

This highlights the importance of human skills for dealing with the veracity of information, reinforcing the need for users to understand how to critically judge information online to understand what sources are trustworthy.

Separately, the European Commission’s High-Level Expert Group on Fake News and Disinformation handed its report to Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner for the Digital Economy and Society. The report made four key recommendations to: counter disinformation by promoting media literacy; empower users and journalists by developing tools to tackle disinformation; protect ‘diversity and sustainability’ in the European media; and to further research the impact of disinformation in Europe. In addition, the report called for the creation of a Code of Principles for online platforms and social media companies to follow, including commitments to make the algorithms behind user’s feeds more transparent, and find ways to make real news more visible and easy to access.

© European Union, 2018 / Source: EC - Audiovisual Service / Photo: Lukasz Kobus

The High-Level Expert Group, which brings together 39 experts from civil society, journalism, academia and social media, was formed to provide input to the Commission on the problem of fake news.

More information about the Expert Group’s work on fake news and disinformation can be found on the website of the European Commission.

More information on the study can be found in a detailed article in The Atlantic, and the full paper can be accessed on the website of Science.

Tags: Europe