Photo/IllutrationA Tokyo woman talks about her experience being the target of false rumors about a road rage incident at a news conference on Aug. 23. (The Asahi Shimbun)

Which spreads faster on the Internet, false or true information?

A team of researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology studied the issue by tracking more than 120,000 cascades of information posted on Twitter. The findings, announced last year, show falsehoods beat out the truth, reaching 1,500 people six times faster than the latter.

Researchers found a plethora of expressions of fear, disgust and surprise among the reactions to false information. Does this mean false stories encourage recipients to spread them because their content is more likely to arouse strong emotions?

A vicious rumor related to a recent road rage incident went viral on social media.

A 43-year-old man assaulted a motorist after pulling in front of his car and forcing him to stop on an expressway. Video footage showed a woman in the suspect’s car.

A Tokyo woman who manages her own business said she suffered badly from online rumors claiming that she was the female passenger.

“I went to bed and woke up as usual only to find that I was being treated as a criminal,” the woman told a news conference on Aug. 23.

Social media was rife with comments denouncing her by name, and her company was flooded with phone calls bashing her.

The rumor is said to have been triggered by the fact that the suspect was following the woman’s Instagram account. This means that anyone can become a victim of a similar attack.

Today, anyone can become a publisher or broadcaster by using social media.

The woman and her lawyer said they are considering legal action against not only people who posted rumors but also those who retweeted them.

The lawsuit will underscore that the casual act of spreading information can come with grave liability.

It is virtually impossible to eliminate false rumors once they are posted online.

A Japanese proverb says that a rumor only lasts for 75 days, but that may no longer hold true.

Still, people also say “rumors are stopped by the wise,” meaning that false information doesn't spread beyond people with good judgment.

It's an adage we should recall when we put our fingers on our smartphones.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 25

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.