There have always been cleavages in society but they have been exacerbated more recently. What is responsible for the growing divisiveness in society? Is divisiveness actually increasing, or is only our perception growing? If we are indeed experiencing more divisiveness, what is responsible for that growth? If it isn’t growing then why do we have the impression that it is? One thing that we can answer clearly is that we are certainly not in a state of unity in this society whether the issue is race, the role of wealth, or which side of the political spectrum is really working to preserve brand “America.”
The study is accepted as well constructed by peers, so we can at least rely on the results. We should be careful about understanding what specifically the authors have succeeded in bringing to light: statements of strong emotion travel faster and more widely than do earnest formal news accounts. Study authors identified news tweets in question by looking for charged verbiage usually tied to emotional false news statements, and they determined that these sorts of tweets (this is all tied specifically to Twitter) tend to be shared and reshared at greater rates. But then the question arises regarding what we are calling news, given that there are – among other things – lots of images with false textual information which would elude this algorithm. Another problem is that true news that is non controversial has no response in Snopes and other websites that are self-professed arbiters of truth. The researchers’ algorithm went to websites like Snopes for the presence of rebuttals of certain information and that is how they determined that there was controversy around the veracity of such items. But if the item is in the public space unchallenged (no confirmation/rebuttal on Snopes), then that piece of information does not get counted in the overall assessment of the number of items being confirmed as true, vs the ones being assessed as fake news. This makes the study result numbers unreliable.
One item of intense interest for me was the role of bots in spreading false information on Twitter. I was surprised to find that the authors found little to no influence of bots in the accelerated spread of false information. But the caveat is that the authors were not on the hunt to either confirm or deny this, so we cannot say with certainty that the study’s results on this matter were accurate. The use of bots in this regard is still somewhat new, but the study carried out by Sanoush, Aral, and Roy looked at the lifetime of Twitter as opposed to concentrating on more recent phenomena. For this reason, the recent introduction and impact of bots was not scrutinized to a respectable degree in the overall evaluation.