Social Media

Older women major misinformation superspreaders: Study

Just 0.3% of users were responsible for about 80% of the fake news spread and shared on Twitter during the 2020 US presidential election, as per researchers from Israel and the US.

Misinformation on social media, particularly on platforms like Twitter, has worsened with the rise of these technologies. Academic researchers have been studying this issue, identifying networks filled with misinformation superspreaders, government efforts to spread false information, and key individuals responsible for the dissemination.

Ordinary people play a significant role in spreading fake news. A recent study focused on many Twitter accounts linked to US voters. It revealed that a small group of misinformation superspreaders, accounting for only 0.3% of the accounts, share 80% of the links to fake news sites. Surprisingly, this group tends to be older, female, and engaged in retweeting.

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Sahar Baribi-Bartov, Briony Swire-Thompson, and Nir Grinberg carried out the research. They analyzed a panel of over 650,000 Twitter accounts associated with US voter registrations, using full names and location details. These accounts were active in the period leading up to the 2020 elections. The researchers employed a machine-learning classifier to detect tweets with political content. Then, they cross-referenced the links in these tweets with a list of websites known for spreading election misinformation.

The study pinpointed 2,107 accounts responsible for 80% of the tweets linked to misinformation sites. These superspreaders were compared to a random sample from the overall population and the most active sharers of trustworthy news sources.

On an average day, only 7% of news stories shared on Twitter were found to link to misinformation sites. However, supersharers shared an average of 16 news links daily, compared to less than one for the random sampling and five for heavy news sharers.

Moreover, 18% of the supersharers’ shared links directed to fake news sources, whereas heavy news sharers had 2% and the random sample had 3%.

Superspreaders were observed to significantly influence others, with over 5% of total accounts following at least one superspreader.

Their tweets garnered more engagement (replies, retweets, likes) than tweets from the rest of the population. For some followers, superspreaders served as the primary source of fake news.

Superspreaders, who are mainly older Republican women, were discovered to be the critical sharers of false news on social media platforms like Twitter during the 2020 US presidential election.

The study, conducted by Sahar Baribi-Bartov, Briony Swire-Thompson, and Nir Grinberg, revealed that a small fraction of users, only 0.3%, were responsible for 80% of the fake news on the platform. These supersharers engaged in manual and persistent retweeting activities.

Among a dataset of 664,391 registered US voters active on Twitter, the study identified 2,107 supersharers. Despite their limited numbers, they reached 5.2% of registered voters in the sample and influenced about a fifth of the most avid consumers of fake news. Their impact was likened to Russia’s foreign influence campaign on Twitter in 2016.

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