Tim Tangherlini – Pizza Party with Satan: Automated Methods for Conspiracy Theory Detection in Archival and Social Media

When: 2021-03-08 17:30-19:30 (Tallinn time)
Where: CUDAN Open Lab (online)

The event is public via zoom: https://zoom.us/j/98904266100
More info: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0233879 & https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s42001-020-00086-5

Abstract – In our group’s work in computational folkloristics, we aim to understand the dynamics of rumor propagation and conspiracy theory formation through history and on contemporary social media platforms. Recent work is focused on QAnon, as well as tracking rumors and conspiracy theory formation related to the Covid-19 pandemic in real-time. Our work incorporates understanding of historical conspiracy theories, such as the complex belief in witches and witchcraft in 19th century Denmark. We also consider more recent conspiracy theories such as Pizzagate and, as a means for comparison, the actual conspiracy, Bridgegate. In our current work, we hope to devise methods that will allow us to track how various stories gain traction in different forums, circulate, are modified and, in some cases, are dropped. We are also interested in understanding the interaction between the stories circulating in social media and news reporting about those stories. The traditional news media play an interesting role in this information eco-system, since the stories circulating in various social media forums become fodder for the reporting in two essential ways. First, the stories circulating on social media influence real world behaviors, thus leading to newsworthy events. These range from people ingesting untested remedies to people “resisting” public health measures. Second, the stories have entered the policy arena, with the president of the United States repeating rumors and conspiracy theories in press briefings, and directing government officials to explore legislative measures to address aspects of these stories. Both of these types of news stories may then feed back into the social media forums.

Collaborative work in the Narrative Modeling Group, co-directed by Vwani Roychowdhury (UCLA) and myself (UC Berkeley), with Pavan Holur and Shadi Shahsavari as the current graduate researchers on the team.

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