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According to new research by Indiana University, social media bumps only take a few seconds to spread disinformation, says Ars Technica. The researchers studied tweets for this purpose shortly after the American presidential elections of 2016.

Shortly after those elections, President Donald Trump said that he would also have won the popular vote if 3 million illegal immigrants had not voted. That lie was quickly spread on social media, much faster than the news that refuted the statement. The distribution was largely made possible by bots on Twitter, according to the research.

The researchers looked at 14 million messages that were shared on Twitter between May 2016 and May 2017. That is the time when the first elections and the inauguration of Trump took place. It took only six percent of the Twitter accounts that were identified as bots to distribute 31 percent of “unreliable” information on the social medium. The bots did this in a time span of two to ten seconds.


The reason those bots are so successful at this is, according to co-author of the research, Filippo Menczer, because people tend to pay more attention to things that seem to be popular. Bots can make it look like something is popular, or that an opinion is shared by more people than is actually the case.

“People tend to put more trust in messages that seem to come from many people,” said Giovanni Luca Ciampaglia, co-author of the investigation. “Bots abuse this trust by making messages seem so popular that real people are misled to start distributing the messages for them.

However, research by MIT, with a similar outcome, states that bots disseminate both accurate news and disinformation more quickly and do so on an equivalent level. Co-author Deb Roy therefore argued that the human factor is responsible for spreading fake news.


Indiana University’s research therefore emphasized the important role played by influencers. These are celebrities and other people with a lot of followers on Twitter, who can quickly spread fake news via retweets. Menczer and his colleagues found evidence of a type of bots that deliberately targets influencers on Twitter. “Those people then get the feeling that a lot of people talk about this article or share it a lot, making it possible to share or believe it.”

Menczer believes that it will take more than just technical solutions to eliminate the problem. “We need regulations and laws that force social media companies to regulate their platforms.”

This news article was automatically translated from Dutch to give Techzine.eu a head start. All news articles after September 1, 2019 are written in native English and NOT translated. All our background stories are written in native English as well. For more information read our launch article.