Rumors, False Flags, and Digital Vigilantes: Misinformation on Twitter After the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombing

Starbird, Kate; Maddock, Jim; Orand, Mania; Achterman, Peg; Mason, Robert

The Boston Marathon bombing story unfolded on every possible carrier of information available in the spring of 2013, including Twitter. As information spread, it was filled with rumors (unsubstantiated information), and many of these rumors contained misinformation. Earlier studies have suggested that crowdsourced information flows can correct misinformation, and our research investigates this proposition. This exploratory research examines three rumors, later demonstrated to be false, that circulated on Twitter in the aftermath of the bombings. Our findings suggest that corrections to the misinformation emerge but are muted compared with the propagation of the misinformation. The similarities and differences we observe in the patterns of the misinformation and corrections contained within the stream over the days that followed the attacks suggest directions for possible research strategies to automatically detect misinformation.