Guardian: Twitter dispels rumors just as well as it propagates them


The Guardian looked back at some of the rumors that spread through Twitter during August's riots in the U.K. and created a data visualization to show how they spread and were knocked down. "The rise and fall of rumours on Twitter is a striking display of social forces in action," write Alastair Dant and Jonathan Richards in a post explaining how they researched and created one of their most advanced data visualizations.

The Guardian and a team of researchers started with 2.6 million tweets that contained a hashtag related to the riots and, with the help of journalists who covered the riots, focused on seven key rumors. (Just one of them was later confirmed.) Their conclusion:

Despite helping rumours spread at great speed, Twitter has an equal and opposite power to dispel them – often in the space of two or three hours, particularly if the counter-evidence is strong.

This visualization shows how the rumor spread that animals were released from the London Zoo.

The Guardian notes that this misinformation didn't spread through social media alone. For instance, a rumor that rioters had broken into a McDonald's and started cooking food was aided by a Daily Mail story, "which was the most widely shared link among tweets which spread the rumour." || Related: How riot news spread on Twitter (Guardian) | 200 most influential Twitter users during the riots (Guardian) | Social media editor role expands to include fighting misinformation during breaking news (

  • Steve Myers

    Steve Myers was the managing editor of until August 2012, when he became the deputy managing editor and senior staff writer for The Lens, a nonprofit investigative news site in New Orleans.


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