March 14, 2018 By Zak Mehan
Social media bots have been responsible for causing their fair share of chaos so far this year, but a new study published in Science sheds new light on exactly how misinformation spreads on social media. Turns out when it comes to false news, the bots are not entirely to blame.
After analyzing 126,000 news stories (both true and false) researchers found that untruthful news is 70 percent more likely to be retweeted on Twitter than true news. The researchers determined this was because people respond more strongly to news that is viewed as novel or emotionally charged. “People who spread novel information gain social status because they’re thought to be ‘in the know’ or to have inside information,” explains one of the study’s co-author Sinan Aral.
But here’s where bots get the edge over humans – while people are likely to respond to emotional content, bots have no such impulse. Using a bot detection algorithm, the researchers found that bots spread false news and true news at the exact same rate.
If the spread of misinformation can’t be blamed on bots, where does this leave us? The researchers themselves have offered some potential solutions, including labeling news sources based on how factual they are or adjusting algorithms to discourage the spread of false news. Facebook, notably, has already moved in a slightly different direction by refocusing the platform’s algorithm to favor updates from friends and family and launching a curated News section to its video-focused Watch platform. But Facebook’s solution seems more like a change of subject than meeting the problem head-on. As we gear up for the 2018 election, we’ll be keeping an eye on what, if anything, social platforms are doing to further curb the spread of false news
And news isn’t the only section getting attention on Facebook’s Watch. The platform, which launched last August, aimed to turn Facebook into a video watching destination. But the platform hasn’t been working exactly how Facebook imagined, with the majority of users still consuming video through the standard News Feed.
But a recent deal inked between Facebook and Major League Baseball could change that. The sports league and the tech giant recently reached an agreement giving Facebook exclusive streaming rights to 25 regular season games in 2018.
The MLB isn’t the first sports giant to stream games on social media – Facebook recently signed a deal with Major League soccer, Twitter paid $10 million for digital streaming rights to the NFL in 2016, and Twitter, Amazon and YouTube are all in the running for the NFL’s 2018 streaming rights.
Taking a step back to think about the broader media landscape, this comes at a time when the rate of consumers cutting the cord on satellite and cable packages has hit an all-time high (the number of pay-TV subscribers has dropped by 3.4% from last year). This is another step towards a critical fork in the road facing the broadcasting industry – is it better to own or rent your content? Outside of sports, Bloomberg launched TicToc – a 24/7 news broadcast on Twitter – while others, like FOX News, are looking at owning their own subscription-based channel. As media companies grapple with where to house their content, larger content carriers in broadcast TV, sports and news will likely chart the path forward.
But what *is* Twitter, really? Is it a convention, a speech, a private venue? All these questions (and more) came up last week when a federal judge heard arguments from seven users blocked by the @realDonaldTrump account. The lawsuit, brought by the users and the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, argues that Trump’s block violates first amendment rights because Twitter is a public forum.
The judge presiding over the case, U.S. District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald, seemed skeptical of President Trump’s actions, noting “once it is a public forum, you can’t shut somebody up because you don’t like what they’re saying.” Buchwald even floated a potential resolution, suggesting that Trump simply mute people as opposed to an outright block.
Buchwald has advised both sides to consider the mute option and warned that both parties might be unhappy with her decision if a compromise is not reached. As our democratic process becomes more and more entwined with social media platforms, public entities of all sorts should be watching the outcome, which could serve to empower both detractors and troll.
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