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Finding Fibbers

Pinocchio silhouette in profile with an elongated nose.

IU researchers create a tool to distinguish fact from, well, everything else on social media.

Baloney, hogwash, hooey, rubbish, poppycock, bull. Call it what you will, disinformation is a problem. The proliferation of provably false information is only growing and becoming more subtle, sophisticated, and subversive.

Scary, right? The good news is that we’re not defenseless against this onslaught of pernicious content.

Indiana University’s Observatory on Social Media (OSoMe) is helping identify disinformation superspreaders on social media with a tool it aptly calls the Top FIBers dashboard. “FIB” stands for the “False Information Broadcaster index” that measures which social media users most frequently share irreputable sources of information. Every month, the dashboard identifies the top 10 disinformation spreaders on Facebook and X, formerly known as Twitter. Think: the FBI fugitives list, except IU’s FIB list names the most habitual fugitives from the truth.

But it’s not always easy to separate fact from fiction.

Disinformation permeates both sides of the political spectrum, as the dashboard often shows. And while politics is a common subject, disinformation isn’t limited to that arena. Science, business, tech—name a topic, and you’re almost certain to find inaccurate, sometimes blatantly false information circulating online that’s just a tap, click, or swipe away.

This raises the question: How do IU researchers determine that information is unreliable?

Rubbish Rankings

OSoMe applies a research standard typically used in academia, citing in its methodology a scholarly article that defines spreaders of disinformation as outlets that “lack the news media’s editorial norms and processes for ensuring the accuracy and credibility of information.”1 In other words, low editorial standards lead to low-quality information.

Thus, as OSoMe explains, “the dashboard searches for posts that contain at least one link to any source that meets three criteria: 1) low credibility [rating], 2) categorized as either ‘conspiracy/pseudoscience’ or ‘questionable/fake news,’ and 3) labeled as having a low or very low factual score.”

Quantity also counts on the Top FIBers dashboard. For example, a user with a FIB index of 100 has shared at least 100 posts linking to low-credibility sources, each of which has been reshared at least 100 times. Conversely, a user who shares only one post linking to a low-credibility source will have a FIB index of one, even if it was reshared millions of times. Thus, users who routinely share disinformation rise up on the FIBers chart.

All of this helps the Top FIBers dashboard call out shoddy content costuming as trustworthy information.

“Research from our observatory and others has shown that a few influencers are responsible for a large proportion of low-credibility content being shared online, including harmful content such as false vaccine claims,” explained Filippo Menczer, director of OSoMe and Luddy Distinguished Professor of Informatics and Computer Science. “Our new dashboard will help citizens understand the role of these bad actors in the spread of misinformation.”

And that’s a fact.

A screenshot of the "Top FIBers" dashboard displays a ranking of the top four superspreaders of low-credibility information. The header graphic shows an illustrated profile of Pinocchio with an elongated nose beside the page title, "Top FIBers."
The Top FIBers dashboard ranks the top 10 superspreaders of low-credibility information on X (formerly Twitter) and Facebook each month.

This article was originally published in the 2023 issue of Imagine magazine. Thank you to Marah Yankey, IU Newsroom, for original reporting that contributed to this story.

1 David M. J. Lazer et al., “The science of fake news,” Science 359, no. 6380, (2018): 1094-1096. [↵]

Written By

A. Price

A resident of the Hoosier state since grade school, Alex forged a friendship with “tried and true” IU upon becoming a writer at the IU Foundation.

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