Published online by Cambridge University Press: 17 August 2018
In this paper, we develop a new necessary and sufficient condition for the vanishing of $4$-Massey products of elements in the modulo-$2$ Galois cohomology of a field. This new description allows us to define a splitting variety for $4$-Massey products, which is shown in the appendix to satisfy a local-to-global principle over number fields. As a consequence, we prove that, for a number field, all such $4$-Massey products vanish whenever they are defined. This provides new explicit restrictions on the structure of absolute Galois groups of number fields.