The Guardian published a very interesting interactive showing the spread of false rumours on Twitter network during the 2011 London Riots. They analyze 7 different rumors showing the dynamics of their viral spread through Twitter. The green dots are the supporting statements (e.g. “I saw a tiger walking around London!”), the red dots are the opposing statements (e.g. “The tiger story is FALSE!”), the yellow dots are the questions (“Is it true there are tigers walking around the city?”), the grey dots are the comments (e.g. “Funny story about tigers, people are crazy…”)
While you can play with this interactive by yourself, we made a short video with some excerpts from it, accompanied by a nice soundtrack produced using the iPhone Trope app (a very visual network-like app for creating music, by the way). We ran the interactive through the 7 rumour scenarios to show the dynamics of rumour propagation. It can be seen that the most sustainable rumours are the ones, which start from several “supporting” groups simultaneously and also have the opposing and questioning groups competing for attention. When a rumor is initiated within only one, even large group, it might get many more followers, but it’s also short-lived, especially if there is no questions tweeted at the same time as the rumor is spreading to initiate interaction.
So if you’re working on a marketing campaign or want to let the world know about something that is not really true, the best way to start on Twitter can be to seed a question that implies your rumour to an interconnected group of users while simultaneously seeding a “supporting” statement to another (or better few) interconnected groups. When that’s done, if you want the message to reach the widest audience in a short time and then “die off”, focus on the most connected hubs. If you want the rumor to be sustained for a longer time, create some discussion in the network, seed contradicting statements, initiate conversation.