Sunday, March 18, 2018

Does Fake News Really Spread Faster Than Real News on Twitter?

By Robert Wenzel

Tyler Cowen has some excellent observations on reports concerning new paper that claims fake news spreads faster than the truth.

He writes:
You may recall last week a spate of stories and tweets claiming that fake news spreads further and faster on Twitter.  For instance, there is Steve Lohr at the NYT, who doesn’t quite get it right:
And people, the study’s authors also say, prefer false news.
As a result, false news travels faster, farther and deeper through the social network than true news.
That struck me as off-base, and you can find other offenders, so I went back and read the original paper by Vosoughi, Roy, and Aral.  And what did I find?:
1. The data focus solely on “rumor cascades.”  The paper does not establish the relative ratio of fake news to real news, for instance.  The main questions take the form of “within the data set of rumor cascades, what can we say about those cascades?”
2. It still may (or may not) be the case that real news has its major effects through non-cascade mechanisms.  Most people are convinced of 2 + 2 = 4, but probably not because they heard it through a rumor cascade.
3. Within the universe of rumor cascades, this paper measures average effects.  It does not mean that at the margin fake news is more powerful.  For instance, the rumor “Hillary Clinton is Satan” may have been quite powerful, but that does not mean a particular new rumor can achieve the same force.  2 + 2 = 5 won’t get you nearly as far in terms of retweets, I suspect.
Further, I would argue that most fake news is click bait news that is designed to get retweets. This does not mean it is the most relevant for most people.

For example, if someone
watches the weather daily, and a report says, "Tomorrow is going to be another nice day just like the last few days have been." That is not information that isn't important to a reader in that he may want to know if it is going to rain but it is not likely that it is the type of information that is going to be retweeted.

On the other hand, there are plenty of Hillary haters out there who would believe just about anything about Hillary. If you put out fake news that Hillary is secretly meeting with Louis Farrakhan to overthrow Trump, the crazed Hillary haters are going to retweet that story.

So say, every day 10 million people look at the weather report via Twitter. It is very likely that few will retweet it, even though it is valuable information.

However. Hillary-haters are likely to follow each other on Twitter, so if one of them sees fake news, it could easily get retweeted by many in the group. which might only be an echo chamber group of less than a million.

But the lack of retweets by the many more real news weather watchers versus the rabid retweets of the much smaller Hillary-hater group can give the incorrect impression that most people are looking for fake news.

This is especially so since fake news creators are likely to desire aggressive retweeting, Thus, they understand the rabid groups and will design their fake news to appeal to these rabid groups.

Robert Wenzel is Editor & Publisher of and Target Liberty. He also writes EPJ Daily Alert and is author of Foundations of Private Property Society Theory; Anarchism for the Civilized Person and The Fed Flunks: My Speech at the New York Federal Reserve Bank. Follow him on twitter:@wenzeleconomics and on LinkedIn. His youtube series is here: Robert Wenzel Talks Economics. The Robert Wenzel podcast is on  iphone and stitcher.


  1. Keynesianism is a hoax and fake news. When is the government going to do something about that?

    1. Isn’t calling it Keynesianism a hoax? Keynes actually advocated reduced government spending during good times, right?

  2. I find this alleged distinction between "fake" and "real" news to be amusing. Since the state is such an absurd notion, it can only be sustained by creating acquiescence, if not support, through lies. And because statists have asked the state to regulate every aspect of our lives, and since anytime there is an issue everyone looks to the state for a solution (salvation), the first place reporters turn when something happens is to the state, or state-approved "experts," which thus creates the impetus for another fib-train to start rolling. Thus even the most mundane mainstream news reporting includes many faulty underlying premises, and often even faulty representation of actual events. Accordingly, what news produced by statist reporters is not at least partially fake?