Twitter isn’t doing enough to combat ‘fake news’

In the fight against fake news, Twitter isn't winning.
In the fight against fake news, Twitter isn’t winning.

Image: Richard James Mendoza/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Almost two years since the 2016 presidential election, misinformation campaigns are still running rampant on social media. Now, a new study claims that things are looking especially grim on Twitter.

A study by the Knight Foundation published Thursday found that “more than 80 percent” of Twitter accounts that were involved in spreading disinformation and falsehoods during the 2016 election campaign are still active on the platform. 

The report found 6.6 million tweets linking to misinformation and fake news publishers just one month ahead of the 2016 election. In addition, from mid-March to mid-April 2017, the study estimates 4 million tweets linked to fake news websites. Fast forward to today, the report finds that “these top fake and conspiracy news outlets on Twitter are largely stable.”

Furthermore, the study reveals just how intertwined a number of these fake news and conspiracy accounts are. Ten websites made up 65 percent of the misinformation being linked to by these Twitter accounts. On top of that, researchers found that many of the accounts spreading fake news follow one another. This results in a “ultra-dense core of heavily followed accounts” that repeatedly shares out fake news, leading to its spread through the platform.

The Knight Foundation put out its report, titled “Disinformation, ‘Fake News’ and Influence Campaigns on Twitter,” in partnership with social media intelligence firm Graphika. This study looked at over 10 million tweets across 700,000 Twitter accounts which posted more than 600 links to conspiratorial and fake news outlets, labeled as such by OpenSources, to make these concerning discoveries.

Last month researchers at Stanford University and New York University found that engagement on fake news on Twitter has actually been rising since the 2016 election. Combined with the latest Knight study, its clear that Twitter has work to do when it comes to combating fake news.

Twitter is disputing the Knight Foundation’s findings in this study, pointing out what has been done to take on fake news. It should be said, to Twitter’s credit, the company has taken action against fake news. This past summer, Twitter banned a number of ‘fake accounts.’ Just earlier this month Twitter announced an update to its “elections integrity work,” which includes cracking down on fake, as well as automated, profiles — the types of accounts that are usually involved in the dissemination of misinformation.

The issue at hand though, isn’t whether or not Twitter is addressing the prevalence of fake news on its platform. Clearly, they are. The criticism is whether Twitter is doing enough.

Knight’s research points to one clear example of what just plain works in the fight against fake news: bans. 

In the study, fake news outlet The Real Strategy was mentioned in over 700,000 tweets during the 2016 election. After promoting the Pizzagate conspiracy and harassment campaigns, The Real Strategy Twitter account was deleted, its site blacklisted from a number of other platforms, and “ a network of supportive bot accounts” was disrupted. In the post-election selection of tweets which came after this aftermath, the study found a 99.8 percent drop in references to The Real Strategy —  from 700,000 tweets to a total of 1,534 tweets.

With 80 percent of 2016’s offenders still using the platform to spread conspiracy and misinformation and research showing that bans work, we know what methods are most effective in curbing the spread of fake news. It’s up to Twitter to act.

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