PerspectiveSocial Science

The misinformation machine

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Science  25 Jan 2019:
Vol. 363, Issue 6425, pp. 348
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaw1315

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In recent years, there has been an explosion of research trying to understand misinformation: what it is, how it operates, and what impacts it has on the world. On the surface, this roiling field seems to produce as many paradoxes and conflicting results as it does potential insights. For example, some studies suggest that bots (internet robots) play a limited role (1), whereas other studies suggest that bots drive the diffusion of misinformation (2). It is ironic that the field of research on misinformation has come to resemble the very thing it studies. What is true? What is actually known about misinformation and its impacts on society? A single research paper may interrogate only one aspect of what is a complex misinformation machine, making it tempting to see other papers as providing competing views, when they are, in fact, often entirely complementary windows into a much larger process. On page 374 of this issue, Grinberg et al. (3) illustrate the necessity of thinking of misinformation as a process.