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Disinformation Pipeline

How Does Fake News Spread?


Through misplaced trust


The spread of fake news depends on networks. When a friend or family member shares disinformation, users are less likely to question whether it’s true. While we should trust those around us, we also need to recognize a crucial fact:


23% of social media users admit to purposely or accidentally sharing fake political news.


Many more have shared disinformation without ever realizing it. It's important that we thoroughly investigate content before posting it. As Reagan once said, "trust but verify."


Through fiery content


Fake content is often more eye-catching than regular news. Because of this, fake news stories are 70% more likely to be retweeted than real news.


Through bots and trolls


Bots and trolls speed up the spread of fake news.


Bots are…

  • Computer programs that mimic human behavior on social media

  • Best at sharing highly emotional, uninformative content within echo chambers

  • Up to 15% of all Twitter accounts


Trolls are...

  • Social media users who distribute inflammatory content (memes, stories, etc.)

  • Better at convincing "outsiders" of false information

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The bottom line: the “Power Law of Social Media

The Power Law states that content spreads most quickly when shared by a few highly influential accounts, rather than many small or medium-sized accounts


The spread of content is further accelerated when targeted toward particular groups. While elderly, young, and less educated people are vulnerable to disinformation, users with extreme political beliefs are the most at-risk.

When social media companies use the popularity of content as a stand-in for quality and truth, they speed up the spread of disinformation.

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