Researchers have found that positive, authentic messages go viral just as quickly as fake news.
A study co-authored by Emilio Ferrara, a computer scientist at USC Information Sciences Institute and a research assistant professor at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering’s Department of Computer Science has found that social bots can spread positive information same way they spread fake news.
Ferrara together with a team from the Technical University of Denmark created a “large-scale experiment designed to analyze the spread of information on social networks”.
Over a period of 4 months, the researchers employed a syndicate of 39 social bots to deploy positive messages in a coordinated manner to over 25,000 real Twitter users. The team then measured the impact of the continuous exposure of people to these positive messages.
“We found that bots can be used to run interventions on social media that trigger or foster good behaviors,” said Ferrara.
Our key takeaways from this experiment on how information gets spread on social media are:
1. Direct Targeting is More Effective
Bots target individuals directly through replies and mentions. Individuals are more likely to pay attention to content that is directly aimed at them. As more people are directly targeted by bots with the same piece of information it drastically increases the chances of the post going viral.
2. Repetition Leads to Interaction
Throughout the study, it was found that by repeatedly exposing individuals to the same information from multiple sources, they are more likely to start interacting with it.
“This milestone shatters a long-held belief that ideas spread like an infectious disease, or contagion, with each exposure resulting in the same probability of infection,” says Ferrara.
“Now we have seen empirically that when you are exposed to a given piece of information multiple times, your chances of adopting this information increase every time. We also saw that every exposure increased the probability of adoption – there is a cumulative reinforcement effect,” said Ferrara.
Turns out we do actually care about where information comes from.
It might have more to do with the number of sources we encounter rather than the authority of a given source, but at least this dispells the idea that most people just pick up an idea from the first source they find.
3. Decentralization is key
Normally, when we want to promote a product or content, we usually try to convince influencers.
The reason being that these people have a huge following and thus more reach. Bots, on the other hand, employ a different approach in spreading information.
The study found that it’s more effective to use an army of bots to spread information in a synchronized manner instead of using one account with a huge following.
“The common approach is to have one broadcasting entity with many followers, but this study implies that it would be more effective to have multiple, decentralized bots share synchronized content,” said Ferrara.