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Journal paper: Rumor evolution in social networks

April 26th, 2013

Rumor evolution in social networks 

Yichao Zhang, Shi Zhou et al.  Phys. Rev. E 87, 032133 (2013)

Abstract: The social network is a main tunnel of rumor spreading. Previous studies concentrated on a static rumor spreading. The content of the rumor is invariable during the whole spreading process. Indeed, the rumor evolves constantly in its spreading process, which grows shorter, more concise, more easily grasped, and told. In an early psychological experiment, researchers found about 70% of details in a rumor were lost in the first six mouth-to-mouth transmissions. Based on these observations, we investigate rumor spreading on social networks, where the content of the rumor is modified by the individuals with a certain probability. In the scenario, they have two choices, to forward or to modify. As a forwarder, an individual disseminates the rumor directly to their neighbors. As a modifier, conversely, an individual revises the rumor before spreading it out. When the rumor spreads on the social networks, for instance, scale-free networks and small-world networks, the majority of individuals actually are infected by the multirevised version of the rumor, if the modifiers dominate the networks. The individuals with more social connections have a higher probability to receive the original rumor. Our observation indicates that the original rumor may lose its influence in the spreading process. Similarly, a true information may turn out to be a rumor as well. Our result suggests the rumor evolution should not be a negligible question, which may provide a better understanding of the generation and destruction of a rumor.

An interesting observation from this research is that inequality is not lessened, but intensified, in modern social media networks.  Our research suggests that the modern social media networks have in fact magnified the disparity between the quality of information that different social groups can access. It is known that people often change a message, deliberately or accidentally, before passing it to others. It is called the Chinese Whisper. We show that even if just a small portion of the population have the habit of information alteration, the majority of the society will only receive repeatedly modified messages. However, not everyone is equally affected. The well-connected people usually receive more authentic messages than the less-connected people. What is striking is that this inequality is not relieved, but worsened in social media networks, where modern technologies enable a small number of people to acquire disproportionally large numbers of connections. In this case, the super-connected are further advantaged by receiving almost genuine information that are very close to their original form;  whereas the lone souls, hanging around with a small gang at the edge of the society, are hopelessly disadvantaged by being fed with always heavily twisted rumours.
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