What travels faster than light? Gossip on social media. Remember in 2012 when a fake report on Amitabh Bacchan dying in a car crash was doing the rounds on social media? Or the Twitter hoax suggesting Justin Bieber has cancer and the pop star has urged his fans to go bald. #BaldforBieber started to trend in the US and many of his fans ( particularly teenage girls) shaved their heads in solidarity.
Now a team of European researchers is working towards developing a software called Pheme that will detect hoax reports before they become viral on Twitter. It will also identify whether social media accounts have been created just to spread rumors.
The software takes its name from the original gossip goddess – Pheme. In Greek Mythology, Pheme was known for spreading rumors; she pried on mortals and gods- no info was spared from her.
She would start the rumor as a dull whisper and then would repeat it. And each time she spoke, she did it loudly so that everyone heard it.
The project is based on the research done on the use of social media during the London riots in 2011.
“There was a suggestion after the 2011 riots that social networks should have been shut down, to prevent the rioters using them to organise,” said Dr Kalina Bontcheva, lead researcher on the project at the University of Sheffield.
“But social networks also provide useful information. The problem is that it all happens so fast and we can’t quickly sort truth from lies. This makes it difficult to respond to rumours, for example, for the emergency services to quash a lie in order to keep a situation calm,” she said.
The researchers would look at the historical data to check which rumors have gone viral and would also work towards differentiating real users from bots. The ideas is that Pheme would send data to a dashboard that journalists would monitor to determine the legitimacy of news on Twitter.