Analysis of Research on Online Rumors

  • Anjan Pal, Alton Y. K. Chua
  • March 2019, Institute of Electrical & Electronics Engineers (IEEE)
  • DOI: 10.1109/infoman.2019.8714707

Analysis of Research on Online Rumors

What is it about?

The prevalence of online rumors has now become a serious concern. They have also been attracting much scholarly attention from various academic disciplines. This study seeks to investigate the following research question: How do scholars tackle the phenomenon of online rumors? Specifically, it identifies (a) the research aims that have been explored, and (b) the disciplines as well as authors’ collaboration trends in the exploration. For this purpose, the study conducts a content analysis of 202 scholarly articles to review the landscape of research on online rumors. The findings are as follows: There are four groups of research aims: (1) how rumors spread, (2) how rumors can be detected, (3) how rumors are perceived by humans, and (4) how rumors can be mitigated. In terms of the disciplines and authors’ collaboration trends, while 128 (63.37%) articles showed intra-disciplinary collaboration, 74 (36.63%) articles involved inter-disciplinary collaboration trends. This study identifies directions for future research.

Why is it important?

This study identified four groups of research aims that have been explored to study online rumors. These include (1) how rumors spread, (2) how rumors can be detected, (3) how rumors are perceived by humans, and (4) how rumors can be mitigated. Among these four groups, the dominant research aim includes investigating the spread of rumors. Under this category, prior works heavily rely on simulation models to examine the propagation of online rumors. On the wings of the network-like structure on social media, online rumors spread faster and wider than traditional rumors that are used to spread through word-of-mouth. The amplification of online rumors could be a vestige of two factors. One, online users tend to give sensational but spurious information the same weight as verified information from credible sources. Two, rumors can be shared easily on social media using one-click plugins such as Facebook’s Share button. Online rumors attract not only intra-disciplinary but also inter-disciplinary scholarly attention. Different scholars from different disciplines have collaborated to address this phenomenon. However, the collaborations strength among disciplines was not uniform. For example, the collaboration strength of Engineering and Humanities & Social Science was the most dominant. Such a collaboration trend reflects that the investigation needs collaboration to address the menace of online rumors. The collaboration also extended to non-academic institutes that included social media giants like Facebook. The involvement of non-academic institutes suggests that research in the area of online rumors can generate impact beyond academia. Hence, it could be a promising avenue for scholars to explore given that bodies such as the Research Excellence Framework are increasingly looking to recognize research that has implications even outside the scholarly circles.


Dr Anjan Pal
University of York

Scholars have so far invested relatively little efforts to explore how rumors can be mitigated. Among the few studies, some applied the perspective of human-computer interaction. They explored several Graphical User Interface (GUI) design options to expose users to rumors and rebuttals. Others investigated the effectiveness of denials in terms of message wording and source credibility. Clearly, research needs to do more to mitigate online rumors. This is necessary because rumors are anyways unrestrainable at their point-of-origin. Furthermore, users generally fail to tell a rumor from a fact as the former seldom comes with a warning label. Therefore, they may end up utilizing rumors for decision-making, and share the information with others.

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The following have contributed to this page: Dr Anjan Pal

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