Frequently Asked Questions

Highlights from our research

Is Fake News a problem?

Yes and no. It is a side effect of the shift in the business model of information production and consumption induced by social media platforms.

What a shift? What is changed?

Social media radically changed the way we discuss and form our opinions. Initially designed for entertainment, social platforms have become the main media for access and exchanging information. Indeed, social media platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter radically changed the business model of content creation and information diffusion. Complexity and accuracy of contents suffer the new media ecosystems' speed and emotional drive.

So fake news is not a problem?

No Fake news is just a side effect. The real problem is polarization.

What is polarization?

Our studies show that people seek information adhering to their system of beliefs and ignore dissenting information. The wide availability of content makes this process disruptive. People find their preferred source and join groups of like-minded people sharing a common narrative framing, like tribes. Echo chambers emerge around a shared narrative, and people cooperate to defend it.

So the problem is confirmation bias, isn't it?

We don't like the word bias very much. It doesn't allow a precise definition of what is going on. In psychology, confirmation bias is the tendency to select information adhering to our system of beliefs and to ignore dissenting information. However, we don't know exactly what creates in the brain such a phenomenon.

Are social media making us dumber?

It is hard to say. It assumes that there was a time in which we were clever. Social media creates an environment within which we tend to be more emotional. The way content spread changed, favoring images and short sentences. The amount of information increased greatly, and on the other side, the time to explore it remained constant. So we process information in a shorter time and with less accuracy.

Does fake news travel faster than real news?

It is not easy to tell. Information spreading depends on tons of factors. Our studies suggest that the spreading patterns vary across platforms, topics, and echo chambers. In other words, the audience determines the speed of diffusion.

Does fact-checking work?

Fact-checking is useful for users that are already prone to read it. Other users, not engaged with fact-checking, may not read the content and can even backfire in some cases. No one likes to be wrong.

How will we face it?

We don’t know. We are studying it. Follow us. Awareness of the real problem is a first step.

CDCS Sapienza

Sapienza University of Rome
Dept. of Computer Science