New study shines light on controlling the spread of misinformation in online networks

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New study shines light on controlling the spread of misinformation in online networks

A new study by researchers at North Carolina State University (NCSU), USA, has examined the factors that determine the manner in which conflicting pieces of information are transmitted in an online network. The findings, the researchers believe, have significant implications for the control of false information in digital and social media networks.

According to the study, one factor that aids the spread of data is the size of the network. A more decisive factor though is the structure of the network: the more interconnected a network, the faster is the spread of data. However, the study also found that in large networks with fewer key nodes, data travels slower. The presence of fewer nodes thus proves to be an inhibitor of rapid data transmission. Additionally, the researchers devised an algorithm that could be used to determine a specific point in a network to introduce new data so that it could travel faster through the network, thus quickly replacing older, inaccurate data.

The findings have everyday relevance. They could be used to help computers receive patches soon after a security vulnerability is detected. They could also be used to ensure that smart appliances, such as digital wearables, virtual assistants, and home automation systems, collectively referred to as the internet of things (IoT), continue to operate glitch-free.

However, the researchers believe the findings have greater implications for dealing with the sweeping relay of misinformation through digital and social media networks. Wenye Wang, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at NCSU and a coauthor on the paper, says, “Whether in IoT or on social networks, there are many circumstances where old information is circulating and could cause problems – whether it’s old security data or a misleading rumor.” He adds, “Our work includes a new model and related analysis of how new data can displace old data in these networks.”

The growth of digital and social media networks, such as WhatsApp, Facebook, and Twitter, has also led to a surge in fake news and unverified rumors, which spread rapidly both due to the popularity and the size of the networks, which may lead to dire consequences. Jie Wang, a postdoc at NCSU and the first author on the paper, believes “the findings... could be used to facilitate the spread of accurate information regarding subjects that affect the public. For example, we think it could be used to combat misinformation online.”

What do you think of the findings of the study? Do you think it can help control the rapid relay of fake information, especially critical at the time of a pandemic such as COVID-19 that has led to a corresponding ‘infodemic,’ a term coined by the World Health Organization (WHO) to define the swift circulation of largely unverified information around the pandemic? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Published on: Apr 03, 2020

Senior Writer and Editor
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