Researchers Explain Why Fake News Goes Viral

Category: Human Interest


Unlocking Word Meanings

Read the following words/expressions found in today’s article.

  1. overload / ˈoʊ vərˌloʊd / (n) – the state of having more than what someone or something can carry or process

    The electric circuit broke because of overload.

  2. fact-check / ˈfæktˌtʃɛk / (v) – to verify if a piece of information is true and correct

    He makes sure to fact-check articles on the Internet before sharing them.

  3. bombard / bɒmˈbɑrd / (v) – to continuously send or provide something to someone

    The Internet bombards us with new information every day.

  4. discern / dɪˈsɜrn / (v) – to tell the difference between two things

    Responsible social media users try to discern facts from false information.

  5. curb / kɜrb / (v) – to control or restrain

    Imposing rules can help curb the number of people who share false information on social media.


Read the text below.

Researchers found that fake news becomes viral because of two factors—people’s limited attention and information overload.

A group of researchers conducted a study to understand how low-quality information, like fake news, spreads on the Internet. The researchers developed social bots, which are programs that create posts like tweets or memes / mims /. The team’s bots then produced memes with pieces of fake news that were spread on different social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.

The result of the experiment showed that the quality of a meme does not affect how popular it becomes. Low-quality information still spreads on social media sites because users usually neglect to fact-check what they read. People are bombarded with so much information on social media even when they can give attention only to limited amounts of information. The combination of the two makes it difficult to discern which news is factual and increases the chances of spreading false information.

This result is supported by the findings of a previous study, which showed that people evaluate the quality of information based on who shared it rather than the organization that produced it.

The research team thinks that curbing the use of bots in social media can help control the spread of false information. Social bots can imitate human behavior on social media and influence real human users. Detecting and suspending accounts controlled by bots can help lessen the amount of false information on the Internet. However, these false accounts are not easy to detect, so the researchers also advised social media users to limit the amount of information they are exposed to.

Viewpoint Discussion

Enjoy a discussion with your tutor.

Discussion A

• In your opinion, how can huge amounts of fake news on the Internet affect readers?
• Why do you think some people or organizations create fake news? Discuss.

Discussion B

• Do you think social media sites should be liable for the spread of fake news? Why or why not?
• How can a person be a responsible social media user?