Tracking and Unpacking Rumor Permutations to Understand Collective Sensemaking Online

Emma S. Spiro (PI), Kate Starbird (Co-PI)

This research addresses empirical and conceptual questions about online rumoring, asking: (1) How do online rumors permute, branch, and otherwise evolve over the course of their lifetime? (2) How can theories of rumor spread in offline settings be extended to online interaction, and what factors (technological and behavioral) influence these dynamics, perhaps making online settings distinct environments for information flow? The dynamics of information flow are particularly salient in the context of crisis response, where social media have become an integral part of both the formal and informal communication infrastructure. Improved understanding of online rumoring could inform communication and information-gathering strategies for crisis responders, journalists, and citizens affected by disasters, leading to innovative solutions for detecting, tracking, and responding to the spread of misinformation and malicious rumors. This project has the potential to fundamentally transform both methods and theories for studying collective behavior online during disasters. Techniques developed for tracking rumors as they evolve and spread over social media will aid other researchers in addressing similar problems in other contexts.