The grim conclusions of the largest-ever study of fake news

“Falsehood flies, and the Truth comes limping after it,” Jonathan Swift once wrote.

It was hyperbole three centuries ago. But it is a factual description of social media, according to an ambitious and first-of-its-kind study published Thursday in Science.

The massive new study analyzes every contested news story in English across the span of Twitter’s existence—some 126,000 stories, tweeted by 3 million English-speaking users, over more than 10 years—and finds that the truth simply cannot compete with hoax and rumor. By every common metric, falsehood consistently dominates the truth on Twitter, the study finds: Fake news and false rumors reach more people, penetrate deeper into the social network, and spread much faster than accurate stories.

“It seems to be pretty clear [from our study] that false information outperforms true information,” said Soroush Vosoughi, a data scientist at MIT who has studied fake news since 2013 and who led this study. “And that is not just because of bots. It might have something to do with human nature.”