On February 27, 2014 the following post came across Willard McCarty's Humanist Discussion Group. With its reference to cutting edge social media research in the PHEME project founded in January 2014, combined with the literary quotation on gossip from the Roman poet Ovid's Metamorphoses, this was one of McCarty's characteristically wise posts. It is quoted in full:
Date: Thu, 27 Feb 2014 06:38:05 +0000
From: Willard McCarty <[email protected].
Subject: a social media lie detector?
Two researchers from the Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, are part of an EU project, PHEME, which aims automatically to detect four types of online rumours (speculation, controversy, misinformation, and disinformation) and to model their spread. "With partners from seven different countries, the project will combine big data analytics with advanced linguistic and visual methods. The results will be suitable for direct application in medical information systems and digital journalism." I note in particular the qualifying statement that,
> However, it is particularly difficult to assess whether a piece of
> information falls into one of these categories in the context of
> social media. The quality of the information here is highly dependent
> on its social context and, up to now, it has proven very challenging
> to identify and interpret this context automatically.
Indeed. Ovid would, I think, be amused:
> tota fremit vocesque refert iteratque quod audit;
> nulla quies intus nullaque silentia parte,
> nec tamen est clamor, sed parvae murmura vocis,
> qualia de pelagi, siquis procul audiat, undis
> esse solent, qualemve sonum, cum Iuppiter atras
> increpuit nubes, extrema tonitrua reddunt.
> atria turba tenet: veniunt, leve vulgus, euntque
> mixtaque cum veris passim commenta vagantur
> milia rumorum confusaque verba volutant;
> e quibus hi vacuas inplent sermonibus aures,
> hi narrata ferunt alio, mensuraque ficti
> crescit, et auditis aliquid novus adicit auctor.
> illic Credulitas, illic temerarius Error
> vanaque Laetitia est consternatique Timores
> Seditioque recens dubioque auctore Susurri;
> ipsa, quid in caelo rerum pelagoque geratur
> et tellure, videt totumque inquirit in orbem.
> The whole place is full of noises, repeats all words and doubles what
> it hears. There is no quiet, no silence anywhere within. And yet
> there is no loud clamour, but only the subdued murmur of voices, like
> the murmur of the waves of the sea if you listen afar off, or like
> the last rumblings of thunder when Jove has made the dark clouds
> crash together. Crowds fill the hall, shifting throngs come and go,
> and everywhere wander thousands of rumours, falsehoods mingled with
> the truth, and confused reports flit about. Some of these fill their
> idle ears with talk, and others go and tell elsewhere what they have
> heard; while the story grows in size, and each new teller makes
> contribution to what he has heard. Here is Credulity, here is
> heedless Error, unfounded Joy and panic Fear; here sudden Sedition
> and unauthentic Whisperings. Rumour herself beholds all that is done
> in heaven, on sea and land, and searches throughout the world for
Ovid, Met. 12.47-63 (Loeb edn)
See http://www.pheme.eu/ for more."