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Opinion & Conjecture via Twitter

The Twittersphere Does Listen to the Voice of Reason--Sometimes

UW Today (04/04/16) Jennifer Langston


In the maelstrom of information, opinion and conjecture that is Twitter, the voice of truth and reason does occasionally prevail.

Tweets from the official accounts of government agencies, emergency responders, media, or companies at the center of a fast-moving story can slow the spread of rumors and correct misinformation that has taken on a life of its own, according to researchers at the University of Washington.

The team from the Emerging Capacities of Mass Participation Laboratory in the Department of Human Centered-Design & Engineering and the Information School's DataLab documented the spread of two online rumors that initially spiked on Twitter--alleged police raids in a Muslim neighborhood during a hostage situation in Sydney, Australia, and the rumored hijacking of a WestJet flight to Mexico.

The vast majority of tweets both affirming and denying the two rumors were retweets of a small number of Twitter accounts, and were largely driven by "breaking news" accounts that offer the veneer of officialdom. However, the "breaking news" accounts do not necessarily follow standard journalistic practices of confirming information.

The rumors were successfully quashed by denials from official accounts. The team says the case studies offer crisis management lessons for organizations. The researchers presented their findings at the ACM CSCW 2016 conference in March.