Improving information spread by spreading groups

Alon Sela, Orit Milo, Eugene Kagan, Irad Ben-Gal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to propose a novel method to enhance the spread of messages in social networks by “Spreading Groups.” These sub-structures of highly connected accounts intentionally echo messages between the members of the subgroup at the early stages of a spread. This echoing further boosts the spread to regions substantially larger than the initial region. These spreading accounts can be actual humans or social bots. Design/methodology/approach: The paper reveals an interesting anomaly in information cascades in Twitter and proposes the spreading group model that explains this anomaly. The model was tested using an agent-based simulation, real Twitter data and questionnaires. Findings: The messages of few anonymous Twitter accounts spread on average more than well-known global financial media groups, such as The Wall Street Journal or Bloomberg. The spreading groups (also sometimes called BotNets) model provides an effective mechanism that can explain these findings. Research limitations/implications: Spreading groups are only one possible mechanism that can explain the effectiveness of spread of tweets from lesser known accounts. The implication of this work is in showing how spreading groups can be used as a mechanism to spread messages in social networks. The construction of spreading groups is rather technical and does not require using opinion leaders. Similar to the case of “Fake News,” we expect the topic of spreading groups and their aim to manipulate information to receive growing attention in public discussion. Practical implications: While harnessing opinion leaders to spread messages is costly, constructing spreading groups is more technical and replicable. Spreading groups are an efficient method to amplify the spread of message in social networks. Social implications: With the blossoming of fake news, one might tend to assess the reliability of news by the number of users involved in its spread. This heuristic might be easily fooled by spreading groups. Furthermore, spreading groups consisting of a blend of human and computerized bots might be hard to detect. They can be used to manipulate financial markets or political campaigns. Originality/value: The paper demonstrates an anomaly in Twitter that was not studied before. It proposes a novel approach to spreading messages in social networks. The methods presented in the paper are valuable for anyone interested in spreading messages or an agenda such as political actors or other agenda enthusiasts. While social bots have been widely studied, their synchronization to increase the spread is novel.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)24-42
Number of pages19
JournalOnline Information Review
Volume44
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - 22 Jan 2020

Keywords

  • BotNets
  • Fake news
  • Information spread
  • Social networks
  • Spreading groups
  • Viral marketing

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