The authors of an much-ballyhooed 2017 paper about the spread of fake news on social media have retracted their article after finding that they’d botched their analysis.
The paper, “Limited individual attention and online virality of low-quality information,” presented an argument for why bogus facts seem to gain so much traction on sites such as Facebook. According to the researchers — — from Shanghai Institute of Technology, Indiana University and Yahoo — the key was in the sheer volume of bad information, which swamps the brain’s ability to discern the real from the merely plausible or even the downright ridiculous, competing with limited attention spans and time.
But as the retraction notice, dated January 7, 2019, indicates, the study had major flaws. It turns out that fake news does not spread as wildfire-y as the real McCoy:
The authors wish to retract this Letter as follow-up work has highlighted that two errors were committed in the analyses used to produce Figs 4d and 5.
In Fig. 4d, a software bug led to an incorrect value of the discriminative power represented by the blue bar. The correct value is τ = 0.17, as opposed to the value τ = 0.15 reported in the Letter.
Thus, the original conclusion, that the model predicts that low-quality information is just as likely to go viral as high-quality information, is not supported.