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Twitter is more resistant to fake news than other social media sites, study finds

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Twitter is the social network most resistant to the dissemination of misinformation according to a new study.

Social media platforms have become a major platform for propagating conspiracy theories, fake news and hoaxes in recent years.

A researcher from the Open University of Catalonia (UOC), who worked with 19 other universities, examined the role that social media plays in the dissemination of false information, and the relationship between how these platforms are used and their users’ belief in this type of misinformation.

“The particular operating features and characteristics of Twitter, a social network that is more focused on news consumption, increase the social pressure on what is published on it, which could in turn perhaps reduce the circulation of unverified or alternative information compared to other social media, such as Facebook and YouTube, which have characteristics that favour the dissemination of those theories,” explained one of the lead authors of the study, Ana Sofía Cardenal.

Data obtained from surveys in 17 European countries was analysed before and after the onset of the pandemic in relation to various social media platforms, including Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, and several messaging applications such as WhatsApp.

The authors of the research argued that the different architecture and features of these platforms influence how these theories spread by defining potential uses, users’ behaviour, the type of interactions and the processes by which information is conveyed.

“This structure means that on a platform like Twitter, for example, content based on conspiracy theories can be quickly debunked or possibly ‘drowned out’ by better quality information, or by the large number of people who are willing to jump in and correct misperceptions quickly,” the researchers said.

Twitter users were also found to combine above average levels of education with a greater tendency to search for news and engage in political debates than those of any of the other platforms in the study.

However, on other social media such as Facebook or in applications like WhatsApp, where there are closer links between users, such as family or friendship ties, people do not check information or dubious content to the same extent.

There is also a positive relationship between using Facebook, YouTube and WhatsApp and having conspiracy theory-based beliefs about Covid-19.

“This type of social media and messaging platforms tend to be more private and protected spaces, which could increase the circulation of alternative information,” Cardenal said.

Although false theories have been circulating constantly on the internet since its inception, the Covid-19 pandemic has increased the presence and intensity of conspiracy theories on social media.

So much so that shortly after it had declared the pandemic, the World Health Organization (WHO) described the situation as an “infodemic” due to the amount of false information that began to circulate related to the outbreak of the coronavirus.

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