Why False Rumors Spread on Twitter During Times of Crisis
Yasuaki Sakamoto, assistant professor at the Stevens Institute of Technology, conducted an experiment in behavioral psychology to test rumor-spreading on Twitter during times of crisis. The original hypothesis was that if a person read a rumor-tweet and then read a rebuttal tweet that criticized the rumor immediately afterward, the rumor-tweet would then have lower perceived importance, anxiety, and overall accuracy — meaning a person would be less likely to continue spreading the rumor-tweet.
To test this, 87 Japanese undergraduate and graduate students were exposed to 20 rumor-tweets and then 10 rebuttal-tweets about the 2011 Japan Earthquake.
The researchers discovered that when someone’s tweet is met with a criticism, it gives the tweet less credibility — making a person less inclined to spread the tweet associated with a criticism. The amount of people who stopped rumor-tweets actually increased 150% when people were exposed to rebuttal-tweets.
So, basically the original hypothesis was right. When people hear opposing views, they will be less inclined to spread rumors during a crisis. Spectacular. Funny thing, though…
“Whether a receiver is exposed to rumor or criticism first makes a difference in her decision to spread the rumor. Another interpretation of the result is that, even if a receiver is exposed to a number of criticisms, she will benefit less from this exposure when she sees rumors first than when she sees criticisms before rumors.”
So, even when someone is exposed to another point of view after she’s exposed to a rumor, the perceived importance, anxiety, and accuracy of the rumor will still be higher than that of the new opposing point of view. She’ll STILL be instinctually inclined to spread the rumor-tweet just because she heard it first.
With that in mind, one can assume that in times of crisis (when people’s perceptions are most likely influenced by belief or emotions), these people will be inclined to believe the first thing they read regardless of its validity.
FJP: So, how do we attempt to solve this issue?
Verily is a platform (currently in development) that will directly connect rebuttal-tweets to rumor-tweets with the intent of decreasing the spread of rumors during disasters.
Verily’s plan to connect contradicting tweets is a step in the right direction, but even if a rebuttal-tweet is a criticism, it doesn’t mean it’s a valid criticism. Is it any better if people believe the second tweet they read, if it’s just as incorrect as the first one?
How do we make sure that these tweeters can think critically and/or draw their own conclusions about a rumor-tweet without the helpful contradiction of rebuttal-tweets?
Michael Shammas of The Huffington Post thinks integrating philosophy into American education is the answer:
While some philosophies obviously conduce toward peace more than others, while some philosophers (Marcus Aurelius) seem kinder than others (Nietzsche), the open-minded study of different philosophies at least opens one up to the possibility that one is wrong. One realizes, like Socrates did, that knowledge is anything but certain, that true wisdom lies in realizing how much one does not know, in understanding that our knowledge of the universe (and therefore of earthly things like politics) is utterly inadequate, perhaps comparable to the area of a pin’s tip against a table. This realization makes one less angry when confronted with opposing views, replacing counterproductive anger with productive curiosity.
Is it better to combat ignorance and gullibility in the schools, or in the cyber-streets? Both? Both. — Krissy