WASHINGTON: Active Twitter users are likely to spread falsehoods during disasters, finds a study.
A University at Buffalo research examined more than 20,000 tweets during Hurricane Sandy and the Boston Marathon bombing.
The study examined four false rumors -- two each from the marathon and hurricane, including an infamous falsehood about the New York Stock Exchange flooding.
Researchers examined three types of behaviour. Twitter users could either spread the false news, seek to confirm it, or cast doubt upon it.
86 to 91 percent of the users spread false news, either by retweeting or "liking" the original post.
5 to 9 percent sought to confirm the false news, typically by retweeting and asking if the information was correct.
1 to 9 percent expressed doubt, often by saying the original tweet was not accurate.
"To the best of our knowledge, this is the first study to investigate how apt Twitter users are at debunking falsehoods during disasters. Unfortunately, the results paint a less than flattering picture," said the study's lead author Jun Zhuang.
Even after the false news had been debunked on Twitter and traditional news media outlets, the study found that:
Less than 10 percent of the users who spread the false news deleted their erroneous retweet.
Less than 20 percent of the same users clarified the false tweet with a new tweet.
"These findings are important because they show how easily people are deceived during times when they are most vulnerable and the role social media platforms play in these deceptions," said Zhuang.
On a more positive note, the study found that while Twitter users are likely to spread false news during disasters, Twitter and other media platforms move quickly to correct the misinformation.
Additionally, Zhuang said it's important to note that the study does not consider Twitter users who may have seen the original tweets with false news and decided to ignore them.
"It's possible that many people saw these tweets, decided they were inaccurate and chose not to engage," said Zhuang.
The study has been published in the journal Natural Hazards.