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A small number of ‘superspreaders’ are propagating most of the misinformation on Twitter, study finds

A small number of ‘superspreaders’ are propagating most of the misinformation on Twitter, study finds
Over the past few years, research has highlighted the immense influence of social media platforms on shaping personal beliefs, shaping political views and affecting social issues. So powerful is this influence, that these platforms are now being misused to spread misinformation and manipulate public opinion on different subjects.

The apparent overload of misinformation on microblogging sites like Twitter (now X) may seem to be stemming from a huge army of politically-driven social media teams and bots. But a few years ago, a study confirmed that misinformation is spread mainly by real people compared to bots, with a 70% higher likelihood of false information getting 'retweeted' than truthful tweets.

In 2022, after the billionaire Elon Musk took over the social media giant, he got rid of a majority of Twitter's ‘content moderation’ teams across the world. Now, the platform takes a crowdsourcing approach to identifying misinformation through its feature called ‘community notes’.

Building on our understanding on the spread of misinformation on social media, a team of analysts at Indiana University has now discovered that it takes only a few influencers to shift the beliefs and opinions of large audiences. The researchers describe these propagators as “superspreaders”.
Social media superspreaders: How a small group shapes public opinion
Much like the superspreaders identified during the COVID-19 pandemic, online superspreaders can “infect” a vast number of people due to their reputations and followings. These purveyors of misinformation can range from pundits with large followings to less reputable media sources, along with affiliated personal accounts and various influencers.

To delve deeper into their social media influence, the research team focused on Twitter. They gathered data over 10 months, analysing 23,97,388 tweets from 4,48,103 users, and identified tweets flagged for low credibility.

Their analysis revealed that about one-third of low-credibility tweets came from just 10 accounts, and approximately 70% were posted by 1,000 accounts.

While most superspreader accounts were untraceable to individuals, some high-profile users, such as politicians and influencers, were identifiable.

The researchers noted that many superspreader accounts were deactivated during Twitter's 2020 crackdown on disinformation. However, this trend is reversing, with X adopting a new approach under Elon Musk's ownership.

Although this study primarily targets the US, its findings hold relevance for social media users around the world, including those in India. Given the widespread propagation of misinformation across social media platforms, any insights gained from this research could serve to enlighten and empower worldwide users in combating this issue.

This study was recently published in the journal PLOS ONE can be accessed here.

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