Researchers at Rome's La Sapienza University have developed the equation that measures the Internet's power to spread indiscretion

Ever wondered why the secrets of celebrities spread on Internet so quickly like a wild fire?

Well, Italian scientists have now developed a mathematical formula that says rumours on social networking sites such as Facebook fly around the globe in a matter of hours.

Researchers at Rome's La Sapienza University have developed the equation (Time taken for spread of gossip = estimate of time (log v/phi X log squared 1/phi)) that measures the Internet's power to spread indiscretion.

In the equation, ‘v' stands for number of vertices of communication and ‘phi' stands for conductance, the Daily Mail reported.

The researchers citied the infamous text messages by golfer Tiger Woods to one of his mistress and the alleged marital woes between French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his wife Carla Bruni, which are among the most recent gossips that spread like wild fire via blogs, Twitter and Facebook. “And it shows just how fast news — and gossip — travels these days. It's like influenza,” said Alessandro Panconesi, the lead researcher at the University.

The researchers are yet to test their theory on the latest celebrity gossip. But Professor Panconesi said he's already demonstrated its reliability — thanks to the help of a fellow researcher in the U.S.

The American mathematician recently posted one Tweet about the Italian group's failure to get the funding promised them by the Italian government to carry out their research on the spread of gossip on the Internet.

“And within 17 hours, there's a whole page about the work in the Corriere della Sera newspaper,” said Professor Panconesi.

“Funding for science in this country is abysmal and we wanted to show it,” he said. “I think we have managed it.”

But the newspapers in Italy, a country that is obsessed with celebrity, were more interested in hailing the research as evidence of the Internet's miraculous power to shine a light on the lives of the rich and famous.

Corriere della Sera compared the speed of Tiger Woods' fall from grace with the time it took Cicero's sniping about Julius Caesar's sexuality to be recorded in the history books by Plutarch — a snail-like 150 years or so.

The latest findings will be presented at the Symposium on the Theory of Computing in Cambridge, Massachusetts later this year.