Misinformation travels fast

Misinformation travels fast

Summary: One of the amazing things about the age we live in is the speed at which information propagates, whether correct or not. Matthew Brown of Forrester Research touched on this recently on September 11th (an infamous date of course, which seven years ago had everyone clamoring for information to find out what had really happened).

TOPICS: Collaboration

One of the amazing things about the age we live in is the speed at which information propagates, whether correct or not. Matthew Brown of Forrester Research touched on this recently on September 11th (an infamous date of course, which seven years ago had everyone clamoring for information to find out what had really happened).

Matthew blogged on ZDNet that a story with the headline “UAL Files for Bankruptcy” appeared in the early hours of Sunday September 7 on the “most popular” list of the Florida Sun Sentinel newspaper Web site.

It then got picked up by Google News, summarized by a securities analyst, and United Airlines stock proceeded to tank by 75%. The problem: the story was from 2002.

Matthew asked 'what, in an age of broadband at home, iPhones, Blackberries, and more can IT leaders do to help balance technology control and chaos?'

Clearly this is not fundamentally an IT technology control issue, but one of information management. From a corporate perspective United presumably have mechanisms in place such as public relations monitoring to prevent stock price manipulation by rumor.

The amplification effect of the internet is staggering, but what isn't new is the way rumors spread if not publicly disproved.

The key to clarity inside an organization is transparency. An enterprise where the workforce is well informed with up to date, accurate information is far more likely to pick up a rumor like this early and get it corrected. Information opaqueness breeds the ambiguity which leads to erroneous information not being challenged - accuracy is the first casualty.

A parallel analyst angle, this time a Gartner release on 'webwire', opines that 'Many Social Software Projects Fail Due to IT Managers Not Having a Well-Defined Purpose to Succeed'

Many social software projects fail because IT managers wrongly believe that successful communities form spontaneously after social software tools are installed, according to Gartner Inc. IT and business managers in charge of deploying social software need to choose a core purpose for the community and arrange implementation to achieve that purpose.

"Contrary to the common perception that vibrant communities arise spontaneously, starting with a carefully chosen purpose does not limit participants. It gives them the direction they need to form a productive community" said Anthony Bradley, managing vice president at Gartner. "As those initial communities gain momentum, other groups will use the social application to build their own communities, and this is how social applications achieve widespread adoption across the enterprise"

Mr. Bradley said that many IT organizations fall into the trap of following "worst practice" installing social software in the expectation that productive communities will emerge spontaneously. Gartner’s discussions with clients suggest that the "install and they will come" practice rarely succeeds; about 70 percent of the community typically fails to coalesce. Furthermore, of the 30 percent of the communities that do emerge, many revolve around interactions that planners didn’t envision, that don’t provide business value and that may even be counterproductive.

The perception that communities on the public Internet appear to arise overnight and quickly grow to encompass millions of participants has led many organizations to assume that social software does not require the system-building rigor typical of many deployments. However, most successful social sites start with a defined purpose and a limited scope.

It can be terribly unfair to burden IT departments, already struggling to keep legacy systems fully tuned for efficiency to keep enterprise divisions up and running, with essentially organizing modern enterprise business practice.

Engineers are generally not noted for their abilities in social engineering and people skills (with some exceptions of course) yet astonishingly in some companies it often falls to a team of technicians to get a collaboration system up, running and presented as a fait accompli to the proposed end users.

Inevitably the path of least engineering integration pain, often regardless of end user practicality, is taken in the absence of any additional management input or guidance in order to get the tasks checked off the IT 'to do' list.

An internal collaboration system that keeps users informed and connected requires careful planning and user workflow path consideration. This allows the organic growth that often appears to magically happen from 'the grassroots' to scale in a usable way. In reality large scale connected collaboration is the result of careful shaping and 'gardening' of cellular growth to homogenize and standardize the greater entity so everyone understands it and can find the information they need.

It is much easier to identify information which should be secret in an enterprise, and lock it away from all but a defined set of users, if you are mapping it to a clear information strategy and associated system design.

As the United Airlines news story example clearly indicates, information transparency needs a powerful communication system to work, particularly between the federated departments of large global enterprises, in order to promote clarity internally and externally. This in turn enables users to fact check internally and externally, quickly pick up on misinformation and correct it.

Topic: Collaboration


Oliver Marks leads the Global Digital Enterprise Team at HP, having previously provided seasoned independent consulting guidance to companies on effective planning of business strategy, tactics, technology decisions, roll out and enduring use models that make best use of modern collaborative and social networking tools to achieve their business goals.

These are Oliver's views and not those of his employer HP.

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  • Misinformation does spread fast but...

    With the Internet's ability to spread that misinformation quickly, there is also a just as quick a counter punch to refute that information. Admittedly, in the very early hours of a misinformed story hitting the net it will spread fast and may in some cases cause some serious damage in the process. What is far more important is that because of the wide spread of the web there will be plenty who read it who will spot the misinformation and will set to work to debunk the story.

    In the days before the net was so pervasive, sure it took a little longer for the misinformed stories to spread, but just the same, it was often significantly more difficult to get the right information out. Now a days, before you can typically catch your breath the message boards are filling up with the the real facts, or at least alternative opinions. Now at least those who have more interest in finding out the truth then simply settling for the first story they read have real opportunity to quickly find out alternative explanations and theories and to make their own online postings as to what the facts are they have been made aware of.
    • The problem is

      that after a while who and what do you believe? ]:)
      Linux User 147560
      • Good point...

        The sad truth is many people are always going to believe what they want to anyway. Misinformation spreading fast or slow isn't going to change that for those types. They are simply going to believe what they want even sooner.

        In the end, when it comes to contentious issue there is always a question of who do you believe when all the opinions are in. The question is I guess, how does the internet affect that. One way is that any misinformation can spread faster then before the internet was around. The second effect is that because so many people use the internet, well informed persons will have the ability to spot the misinformation sooner and they are usually able to respond much quicker then before the internet was around.

        What hasn't changed a whole lot, if at all, is that it is still up to the reader to disseminate and evaluate the information and decide on what they believe to be the truth.

        Before the internet, the comparatively slow creep of misinformation was met with a similarly slow creep of correct information and that often meant it was easier for the intractable types of people out there to cement there beliefs in the misinformation well before the correct information was made available.

        I think in the long run, the negative aspect of the fast movement of misinformation is usually offset by a positive aspect of having all the information, or at least far more information out there faster.