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The @natomy of a Twitter #Rumor

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“Will they or won’t they?” “Did they or didn’t they?”  These were the tweets and retweets that set Twitter on fire a few weeks ago during this year’s SXSW. The subject of debate: a surprise performance by the uber-elusive Daft Punk.  If Prince was planning on stopping by, so could the electronic royal duo from Versailles…couldn’t they?

Hipsters and ravers alike waited with bated breath: would they play on the steps of the Capital or at @davidfordsmith’s house (as long as you have “$5 for the keg and band gas money”)? The rumor heard around the world first started on an Electronic Dance Music Facebook page and was then picked up by some “in-the-know” news outlets. It turns out that some well placed and well timed posters by Columbia records – featuring the now-iconic robot helmets and little else – had popped up during SXSW and got twitterers tweeting.  Rabid fans took to social media to feed the harder, faster, stronger frenzy that ensues when anything Daft Punk hits the Internet.

Alas! The Interstella robots never showed. #wegotplayed

This is just one more time a completely unsubstantiated rumor has not only found its legs on Twitter, but was then amplified by legitimate news networks. Elections have been won, tigers set loose upon rioting crowds, and celebrities consistently declared dead all in the parallel universe of the social network. In fact, the mass media impact of a Twitter rumor lead an inter-disciplinary team from the University of Manchester to trace and dissect the narrative arc of a tweet gone viral.   The result of an analysis of 2.6 million tweets and retweets is a digital visualization that shows how a tweet gone viral behaves just like that: a virus.

Rumors are shown to flow with influence via organic, circuitous interactions and then eventually ebb through the equal counter-influence of detractors questioning their validity.  According to this discovery, if a rumor is ultimately proved false – it isn’t too long before these internal detractors who have successfully cured the misinformation, hence putting an end to the contagion of confusion.

In the case of the Daft Punk SXSW rumor, this viral behavior remained only partly true.  Twittersphere was certainly ablaze with equal parts digital love, #FOMO, and plenty of mocking skepticism about the hype.  It seems, however, that a Daft Punk rumor could be another type of Internet microbe all together as there continues to be an incomplete rectification of the false report.  Outside of the continued Twitter debate – the same outlets that propagated the hype in first place haven’t even commented on the fact that nothing happened.

Hence, the confusion is kept alive. Fittingly – upon my return from SXSW that following Monday – I was actually informed by my colleague that a die-hard devotee such myself had nonetheless missed the show of a lifetime (a friend of a friend had found themselves face-to-face with Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter #fact.)  Enraged and full of self-doubt, I frantically scoured the Internet again in search of evidence…technologic proof if you will!  Instead, the eerie media silence only propels my suspicion that some covert robot rocking did take place.

Perhaps in the basement of the Alamo? #notentirelyconvinceditdidnt

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