A new study explores how gossip spreads in social networks


Follow us onFollow Tech Explorist on Google News

In every-day life probably everyone has already experienced the annoying situation of telling some personal secret to some friend and ending with a naive “please, do not tell that to anyone, ok?” and after a short time, all our friends suddenly know the secret.

In other words, we start sharing a piece of information as an actual fact and end up hearing the same information from the different type of people like colleagues, friends, taxi drivers, etc.

It also happens in marketing strategies. Different types of people should recommend a service or a product before we buy it and begin recommending it ourselves. That means networks have been widely used by physicists to study, while they can also be used to study social systems.

Now the researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago, who are studying the spread of infectious diseases and transmission of information have developed a model that sheds some light on this topic. It elucidates the reasons why some news propagates through social networks before there is time to corroborate the facts.

The results of the research may also help marketing companies target specific social groups. Laura P. Schaposnik wanted to show how one could advise people about believing gossip and when to transmit something heard from others. She is an associate professor of mathematics at the University of Illinois at Chicago and corresponding author on the paper.

We show that if you require different types of people to tell you something before you start asserting it as a fact, then the propagation of the story will be much slower, and it will reach a much smaller proportion of the population than if we didn’t require different types of people,” Schaposnik said. “This multi-type bootstrap percolation has not been studied before. Gossips and rumors are not a new phenomenon, dating back to the birth of language, but we now know that the process can be somehow controlled by requiring some trust to be present.

For understanding the model’s utility, the authors propose considering a society of 10,000 people, each of which is either a Democrat, Republican, independent or politically agnostic. If a person heard and believed gossip from any three people, regardless of type, then most often the gossip would quickly propagate to the whole social network.

On the other hand, if one required a rumor to be heard from at least three different types of people before it could be spread, then the gossip would need to be initially believed by 250 people for it to spread to half the society or more,” Schaposnik added. “Hence, if one wanted to buy time for some piece of news to be corroborated while it is spreading through social networks, by requiring this higher trust level, one could achieve this goal.”

The research appears online at arXiv.org.