Lies spread faster online than the truth: MIT study

As it turns out, there’s a reason why some people believe that vaccines cause autism, exposure to glyphosate causes Alzheimer’s disease and genetically modified food causes allergies.

The reason is that lies spread faster than truth, especially on social media.

In a paper published March 8 in the journal Science, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that untruths posted on Twitter spread more rapidly and reached many more people than true information.

“We found that falsehood diffuses significantly farther, faster, deeper and more broadly than the truth in all categories of information and in many cases by an order of magnitude,” said Sinn Aral, a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management and co-author of the paper.

Aral and his MIT colleagues studied how truth and lies spread online by looking at the diffusion of 126,000 true and false stories posted on Twitter from 2006-17.

They determined what was “true” and “false” using six independent fact checking organizations, including and

False information on politics dominated the study, but the researchers also looked at false information in the areas of terrorism, business, science and entertainment.

“False news stories are 70 percent more likely to be retweeted than true stories are,” said an MIT news release on the study.

“It also takes true stories about six times as long to reach 1,500 people as it does for false stories to reach the same number of people.”

In addition to tracking the online dispersal of lies, the MIT researchers wanted to know why false information reach more people than truth.

They looked at the role of bots, or software that autonomously does things on social media such as re-tweeting and liking posts on Twitter. They found that bots play a minimal role in spreading lies. It’s mostly humans who spread lies online.

“False news is more novel and people are more likely to share novel information,” Aral said, adding people gain status on social media by posting new information, regardless if it’s true or false.

“People who share novel information are seen as being in the know,” Aral added.

The MIT study may explain why it’s become so difficult to change people’s minds when it comes to things like the safety of GM food and pesticides.

In the last five to seven years, communication experts have encouraged farmers and ag industry reps to use social media to educate the public on GM crops and other technologies used in modern agriculture.

Those efforts may have changed a few minds, but the MIT study suggests that false information about agriculture has more influence on Twitter and Facebook.

For instance, GM crops have been around for more than two decades, but the technology remains a polarizing issue.

Public polling in North America continues to show that only 40 to 50 percent of people believe that GM food is safe to eat.

Those numbers are incredibly low because the vast majority of scientists say GM food is safe.

A Pew research poll from 2015 that surveyed American scientists found that almost 90 percent of respondents said GM food is safe to eat.


About the author


  • richard

    And light travels faster than sound….. which is why the myth of GM as progress appeared smart….. until it spoke…. and it became apparent that it was nothing more than a self serving marketing fraud…. Feed the planet, functional foods, nutriceuticals, pesticide and fertilizer reductions were nothing more than lame marketing platitudes to jack up the shareholder value bandwagon……Any sector that after twenty years is still scared silly to label itself is unlikely to win the truth vs. fraud sweepstakes at reality dot com…… where the rubber hits the road…..and the walls of myths explode.

    • Happy Farmer

      And 90% of scientists say GM is safe.
      It appears as though your opinions further verify the article and it’s research.

      • richard

        And ninety percent of western world producers believe they are economically viable when in fact they are addicted to a hundred billion USD taxpayer largesse to prop up the mythical illusion of sustainability……Those of us over here at reality dot com are not afraid to speak to the facts of life as we are not beholden to the mythmakers, their seed, their glyphosate and their feed the planet delusions…..Like I said, light travels faster than sound which is why some people appear intelligent…… until you hear them speak…..GM suffers deep foot in mouth disease and it is failing because there is nothing noble about it……nothing!

      • Harold

        To be totally simplistic in order to gain in a point of clarity, 90% of the scientists will agree that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. However, the 10% who are astronauts will see the sun doing something completely different. Which of the two groups are wrong in their perceptions? The answer to the question is – neither one are. Science is based upon perception and not percentiles. When science is fractured 90% it is because 10 percent of the truth is missing (undiscovered) or 10% of the truth has been omitted in order to deceive. When in history have the perceptions of human beings ever been flawless and science 100% correct; when has it ever been 90% correct? To say that Gm is safe is to recognize a harm. Gm is safe over what harm; the harm of the 10%? Gm has now created GM salmon and does that mean that all former sciences is now Junk science and harmful and GM in now the true science? The salmon that previously existed, did they all survive on irrelevant Junk science? I can’t wait to hear what they say about our arms and legs after they create bionic replacements and want to sell them to the healthy. Who will they claim are the people of “anti progress” and “anti- science?”

    • Harold

      I find it interesting that the survey masters believe that all science has been satisfied regarding what they believe is the truth and therefore their study is legitimate. What is the definition of a small mind. They certainly like to reel in the public to big daddy don’t they? Twitter is their source and to me that is of the pale. They certainly don’t try to rip apart lab results do they? Industry Profit motivation disguised as public advocacy.

    • Monkeeworks

      I see what the article is talking about.

  • Monkeeworks

    It is a sad world when people are so excited to get a ‘like’ , for what-ever (tweet etc.) they made, from people that they don’t know and could care less if you toppled over in six seconds. You gave me a like, you must agree with me, which means I am right. So, so wrong. I see sheep and lemmings. The article mentioned especially politics. Wonder what politics ( president) they could be talking about?

    Perhaps the ‘elder’ generation had it right when they would tell us youngsters, “believe nothing what you hear or read and half what you see.” Newspapers, TV and radio are for entertainment purposes only (that statement was established into law in the 1950’s). Their sole reason of existence is to sell their paper and gather advertisers. Today I would include social media. They are not going to sell anything by writing what people don’t want to read. Today, that means anything, or who, the public don’t like at this moment in time.

    So remember, when you read something, anything, this comment, you are reading one persons opinion. True or not. You can like their opinion, but remember, their opinion probably came from someone else’s opinion, which was rather dull and needed spicing up.

  • richard

    Yeah…..The fact that the intellects at MIT thought that research on the bird brain babble at twitter would reveal anything useful is a bizarre flight of wastefulness…. Anything at antisocial media is symbolic of nothing more than a culture in decline…..They should have studied how the shrinking of the human cranium in real time relates to the abandonment of critical faculties including their own……Note how the author cleverly transposed the MIT conclusions on anyone who dares question his own preconceived bias on the sanctity of GM ….a technology that has proven nothing other than no amount of money will give you the power to push rope

    • Harold

      The truth is the power to burn their “rope” and their money. You and I and others have burned their “rope” and money (we don’t buy) and when it reaches the majority who will do the same the corporation will collapse in upon its self. This fragility is the industry’s greatest fear, but in deceit they say that we are the fearful. The reason MIT seduces twitter and others on social media pretending to study, is for the protection of corporate profit and to keep a firm grasp on those who still support them and perhaps to gain new recruits who will wear the T-shirt to avoid the appearance of being stupid. Like any corporate T-shirt, the company answers on behalf of the wearers, because the wearer cannot ask questions, and they still remain stupid. I noticed that cowardly MIT did not choose a panel of skeptic scientists, doctors, and the like; MIT is truly of the pale – a nursery school. MIT is clearly a contracted sub-trade working propaganda on behalf of the Agro-Chem. industry. MIT is so pure that MIT cannot be called a lie but everyone else is. Does no one see a red flag, the flag that signals deception? Most deceptions start with the words “trust me” begging you not to trust in yourself; such is the Agro GMO and Chem. industry in their “REEL” world and separate from others grasping the REAL world.

  • Denise

    “Lies spread faster online than truth: MIT study”- And then there are some “inconvenient truths” which are kept hidden from public scrutiny, if at all possible. Some truths go unreported when it casts a bad light on the corporate models of production. Is hiding or avoiding the truth the same as lying?
    For example: 1200 hogs died (poisoned by hydrogen sulphide gas)when the ventilation system broke down in a Manitoba hog barn,about a week ago.
    Should be big news,right? Wrong.
    It wasn’t reported in the online editions of Western Producer , Brandon Sun or Manitoba Cooperator.
    I guess 1200 hogs lives don’t matter much ,in the big picture of hog production! Why did it happen,in the first place? What could have been done to prevent it? What changes need to be made by the hog industry?
    Who decided it was a news item that the public didn’t need to know about?
    And why?

    • Denise,

      There’s no conspiracy here. No one “decided it was a news item the public didn’t need to know about.”

      We simply didn’t hear about it.

      We usually do a pretty good job of “keeping our fingers on the pulse” of ag, but we’re not omniscient and, believe it or not, we even make mistakes from time to time.

      A quick Google search just now yields nothing that I can see.

      Any other details you’d care to share so we might look into it?

      Just out of curiosity, how did you find out about it?

      Paul – WP web editor

      • Denise

        Thanks for your response. There was a press release from Hog Watch Manitoba on March 7, 2018.
        “Suffocation of 1500 pigs, another sign of the perils of industrial style hog barns.”

        • Hi Denise,

          I can find nothing on the website regarding such an incident.

          Under the “recent news” section of the Hog Watch Manitoba site the most recent story – “In Hogs We Trust – Part Three” – is from January 26, 2018.

          I would say the death of 1,200 animals is significant, and that the WP and other agricultural news organizations would have covered it, had we known this had occurred.

          My searches of the hogwatch site and related headline and keyword searches using Google have yielded no evidence that this actually happened.

          Perhaps you received the “press release” in the form of an emailed newsletter sent to hogwatch subscribers, of which the WP is apparently not one. If you’d care to pass that along we’d be happy to look into it.

          Paul – WP web editor

          • Denise

            i think this was an emailed newsletter sent to Hog Watch Manitoba. I’ll try to find out why it never got any farther than that. I remember when hogs suffocated in a barn, from a ventilation break down,east of Killarney in 2012, it was hushed up as much as possible. The truth came out ,much later.

          • You’ve piqued my curiosity, Denise. As a member of the media I’m interested in any story that people feel has been “hushed up.”

            Do you have a link to any info regarding the suffocation deaths of these hogs near Killarney in 2012?

            My Googling has yielded nothing.

            Paul – WP web editor

          • Denise

            It was a local event. Caused quite a stink ,literally, because pig corpses were piled up outside of the barn and not properly disposed of in a timely manner.

          • Denise

            The regulations and insurance requirements are so weak regarding the construction and safety standards in hog barns. The Manitoba PC government just made it easier (“cut the red tape”) than ever to bypass proper protection for the animals housed in these death trap barns.
            Fires are hard to hide from the public’s view but break downs in the ventilation systems which cause the hogs to suffocate to death can be hidden.
            The hogs are standing on a slated floor above hog slurry which off gases hydrogen sulphide and ammonia.Very deadly when the fans stop. Why are there no proper alarm systems in place and safer living conditions for these vulnerable creatures?
            This is one of many topics about hog operations that the public should be made aware The hog industry is glad the public does not know the inconvenient truth.

          • Denise

            I found a website:
            “Welfare group claims 1,500 pigs died in a barn accident- QCountry”


Stories from our other publications