Traders dream of being able to act on information before it hits the wire services, and social networks like Twitter provide access to this. But social media, like chatter around the water cooler, contains extremely valuable signal often drowned in noise. The Wall Street Journal provides a cautionary tale: yesterday morning, crude oil futures jumped $1 based on “Twitter rumors” that Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad had been killed.
It can be hard to tell fact from fiction when information comes from “reporters on the ground” in social networks. At Topsy, we developed technology and machine intelligence that can help separate signal from noise on social media, to make up for the lack of editorial filtering and human intelligence normally provided by journalists. The Assad death rumor is a case in point.
At 10:24:37 EDT @convert_trader, without crediting the original Twitter source, tweeted “RT ATTENTION. RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR IN DAMASCUS REPORTS THAT PRESIDENT OF ARAB REPUBLIC OF SYRIA BASHAR AL ASSAD HAS BEEN KILLED OR INJURED.” Within 17 seconds, at 10:24:54 EDT, this was retweeted by @zerohedge to 107778 followers, including lots of traders. Other traders had heard the rumors in the mean time “through email and instant messages”, according to the Wall Street Journal. At 11:16:07 EDT, Reuters reported that the Russian embassy in Syria declined to comment on the rumours.
Topsy’s precedence analysis, which identifies the origin and amplification of messages on social media, made it a matter of seconds to see that the news that Assad was killed originated in a tweet at 09:59:00 EDT from @miniinterrussia, an account described as the official Twitter account of the Russian Minister of Internal Affairs, Vladimir Kolokoltsev. Topsy also showed that no other sources reported this news, even on Twitter – all mentions of Assad’s death went back to that single account. Topsy’s influence algorithms – which help determine the reliability of Twitter users based on the attention each tweet from them will receive – suggested that this account was not a good source of information. Traders with access to Topsy’s machine intelligence would have been able to see all this immediately, and act with the benefit of knowing that this was most likely false information.
Earlier the same day, at 02:23:43 EDT, the fake account announced the death of former Soviet Union President Gorbachev. That rumor, however, didn’t get much traction; the fake account has now been suspended by Twitter.