Social diffusion sources can escape detection

Marcin Waniek, Petter Holme, Manuel Cebrian, Talal Rahwan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Influencing others through social networks is fundamental to all human societies. Whether this happens through the diffusion of rumors, opinions, or viruses, identifying the diffusion source (i.e., the person that initiated it) is a problem that has attracted much research interest. Nevertheless, existing literature has ignored the possibility that the source might strategically modify the network structure (by rewiring links or introducing fake nodes) to escape detection. Here, without restricting our analysis to any particular diffusion scenario, we close this gap by evaluating two mechanisms that hide the source—one stemming from the source's actions, the other from the network structure itself. This reveals that sources can easily escape detection, and that removing links is far more effective than introducing fake nodes. Thus, efforts should focus on exposing concealed ties rather than planted entities; such exposure would drastically improve our chances of detecting the diffusion source.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number104956
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 16 2022


  • Applied sciences
  • Computer science
  • Computer systems organization
  • Internet
  • Internet-based information systems
  • Social sciences

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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