Author Interview: Adapting To Social Media's Disruptions In 'The Hype Machine'

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NPR's Michel Martin speaks with MIT professor Sinan Aral about his new book, The Hype Machine: How Social Media Disrupts Our Elections, Our Economy, and Our Health – and How we Must Adapt.
Author Interview: Adapting To Social Media's Disruptions In 'The Hype Machine'



MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

In recent years, many of us have been thinking about and, in fact, worrying about how social media is affecting our daily lives, everything from how we vote to how we think we should look. A new book from a data scientist and entrepreneur argues that that is by design, and thus, social media, like any powerful tool, has both promise and peril. And to reap the benefits of these technologies and to avoid being victimized by them, we need to better understand them.

Sinan Aral teaches at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT. He's also invested in tech companies and consulted with some of the most prominent tech companies in the world. And he uses this experience to describe in lay terms how social media actually works. His new book is called "The Hype Machine: How Social Media Disrupts Our Elections, Our Economy, And Our Health -- And How We Must Adapt." And Sinan Aral is with us now to tell us more. Welcome. Thank you for joining us.

SINAN ARAL: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: So people who follow tech probably know your work and may know your name because in 2018, you and two colleagues made headlines when you published a study that found that lies travel faster than truth online. So, first of all, why is that? And is that what made you want to write this book?

ARAL: Well, in that study, which we published in Science, we found - we studied all the verified true and false news that spread on Twitter over 10 years. And we found that false news traveled farther, faster, deeper and more broadly than the truth in every category of information that we studied. The why is because of what we called the novelty hypothesis. So if you read the cognitive science literature, human attention is drawn to novelty. And if you read the sociology literature, we gain in status when we share novel information because it looks like we're in the know or because we have…
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