Rumours round the world in twinkling of a tweet

By Alice Neville

Anna Paquin's bisexuality, Rachel Hunter's split from Jarret Stoll, Russell Crowe's bar-room brawl in London - ever wondered how everyone seemed to know before you?

Researchers could have the answer, after devising a complex mathematical formula to explain how gossip spreads so quickly.

The team from La Sapienza University in Italy came up with an equation explaining how the internet is used to fuel and spread tittle-tattle, rumours and sometimes even facts.

Leader Alessandro Panconesi told a British paper the theory was demonstrated by a colleague in the United States who posted a single tweet about the group's failure to get government funding for their research.

Within 17 hours the story filled a full page in a national paper.

The Herald on Sunday observed how quickly three high-profile pieces of Kiwi-related gossip spread this week.

Actress Anna Paquin's announcement on a US gay rights website that she was bisexual on Friday caused so much traffic the site crashed.

By yesterday, a Google search of "Anna Paquin" plus "bisexual" was returning more than a million results. New tweets on the subject appeared every minute.

Rumours that former Kiwi cricketer Adam Parore would take Aussie model Lara Bingle to Chris Cairns' wedding also multiplied fast.

The claim was reported in New Zealand on Thursday and picked up in Australia soon after.

Despite Bingle's agent rubbishing the rumour, it continued to spread via blogs and news websites.

Yesterday it returned 2410 Google results and a new tweet on the topic every few hours.

On Wednesday, Deadline Hollywood blogger Nikki Finke reported that Neal McDonough had been fired from Scoundrels, the US version of Outrageous Fortune, for refusing to film sex scenes with the Cheryl West character, played by Virginia Madsen.

By Thursday the story had been picked up by UK papers and celebrity blogs. Yesterday "Neal McDonough" plus "sex scenes" returned almost 44,000 Google results and hundreds had tweeted on the matter.

New Zealand psychologist Sarah Chatwin said the ease with which gossip spread through the internet was worrying. "Gossip is the darker side of human nature.

"The internet has made information from all over the world accessible, and for a lot of people, hearing about other people's lives is a lot more interesting than what's happening in their own.

"Sometimes people find it comforting to know that celebrities have worries - it humanises them.

"More often than not it's Chinese whispers. There are so few laws governing the internet that things can get out there that are fictitious."

- Herald on Sunday

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