In examining what happened in the case of two widely spread rumors on Twitter, the study concluded that an official-agency tweet disproving the rumor worked effectively.
Sometimes the voice of one can drown out the voice of many — on Twitter, at least.
A study by researchers from the University of Washington found that tweets from official agency accounts can put a stop to rumors spreading across the social network like wildfire.
Even if a rumor has been tweeted and retweeted tens of thousands of times, researchers found that a tweet from the official organization disproving the rumor will be spread even more.
UW researchers from the Department of Human-Centered Design & Engineering and the Information Schools’ DataLab looked at two specific Twitter rumors. One surrounded the purported hijacking of a WestJet flight, and the other involved a supposed police raid of Muslim households in Sydney, Australia. Both were untrue.
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The Sydney rumor peaked during the hostage situation that took place at a cafe downtown in 2014. Someone spotted police in another area of town in a predominantly Muslim neighborhood, and the rumor flew.
Police in the area were really there on a scheduled tour. The Australian Federal Police saw the rumor spike and sent out a tweet stating that it was incorrect.
Tweets about the incident immediately increased significantly, and 90 percent of those came from people retweeting the official organization.
Similarly, a WestJet plane traveling to Mexico in January 2015 was not hijacked, Rumors had popped up as a result of a slight instrument failure, which in reality involved something else that was not serious.
The airline sent out a tweet, and people caught on quickly.
“Being online is really important, even if you don’t want to be,” Kate Starbird, an assistant professor in the human-centered design department, said in a statement. “Avoiding social-media channels because you don’t want to be confronted with misinformation is a real danger for an organization. You’re essentially opening up a space for information to be spreading without your voice being a part of it.”