Preventing rumor spread on Whatsapp

Blog post by: Amitabha Bagchi.

Increasingly the lightning spread of rumour is causing problems and even leading to the loss of life in India. Rudra Mohan Tripathy, Sameep Mehta and I had studied rumour spread from the point of view of containment some years ago when the problem had not been accelerated by the wide adoption of messaging services like Whatsapp.

Without going into the gory details of our work I want to summarise our findings in the hope that they might help policymakers and law enforcers begin to tackle this issue.

We studied the use of anti-rumour to tackle rumour. Anti-rumour is a message like any other in a social network, except it is sent with the express intent of debunking a rumour. The idea was that the same trust between social connections that makes people believe rumours can be used to debunk rumours. This assumption may be optimistic, but is a starting point. In our work, this assumption translates into the assumption that a person who has received the anti-rumour will no longer believe nor spread the rumour. Again, a little optimistic perhaps but a point of departure nonetheless.

Taking these assumptions in hand we ask the follow-up question: How do we start the anti-rumour process so that it is able to contain the rumour as fast as possible? We studied three models of anti-rumour initiation of which I want to discuss only the latter two since the first was somewhat abstract.

In the beacon model we assume that there are social media users within the network who can recognize a rumour as soon as they receive it and will immediately start spreading the anti-rumour. In the real world, these could be law enforcers, government employees, panchayat or zila parishad members. Detecting and pro-actively retarding the spread of rumours was considered to be part of the responsibilities of these beacon users. Administratively this might involve state and central agencies setting up rumor control bureaus who would receive inputs from these beacons and formulate accurate and effective anti-rumour messages in real-time so that the beacons can start spreading them.

In the second model, we called it the neighbourhood model, any social media user can decide, with some probability, to act as a beacon and start spreading the anti-rumour. This is a largely decentralized model and works on the assumption that a reasonable fraction of the citizenry is enlightened.

Our study found that both these models were effective in controlling rumour. The neighbourhood model was more effective, a finding that is intuitive, but given that its fundamental assumption, an enlightened citizenry, is hard to justify, law enforcers should probably begin to think about how to build a workable system based on our beacon model.

For the details click the link below:

Rudra Tripathy, Amitabha Bagchi and Sameep Mehta.
Towards combating rumors in social networks: Models and metrics
Intell. Data Anal. 17(1):149-175, 2013.


2 thoughts on “Preventing rumor spread on Whatsapp

  1. Pingback: False Narrative is more dangerous than Fake News

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