Examining the Alternative Media Ecosystem through the Production of Alternative Narratives of Mass Shooting Events on Twitter

Examining the Alternative Media Ecosystem through the Production of Alternative Narratives of Mass Shooting Events on Twitter

Kate Starbird

Professor, Human Centered Design & Engineering, University of Washington
Verified email at uw.edu – Homepage
  • From the introduction. Do I need something like this? Our contributions include an increased understanding of the underlying nature of this subsection of alternative media — which hosts conspiratorial content and conducts various anti-globalist political agendas. Noting thematic convergence across domains, we theorize about how alternative media may contribute to conspiratorial thinking by creating a false perception of information diversity.
    • We collected data using the Twitter Streaming API, tracking on the following terms (shooter, shooting, gunman, gunmen, gunshot, gunshots, shooters, gun shot, gun shots, shootings) for a ten-month period between January 1 and October 5, 2016. This collection resulted in 58M total tweets. We then scoped that data to include only tweets related to alternative narratives of the event—false flag, falseflag, crisis actor, crisisactor, staged, hoax and “1488”.
      • These keywords specify a ‘primary information space’. Bag-of-words of text correlated with each term could make this a linear axis
    • Of 15,150 users who sent at least one tweet with a link, only 1372 sent (over the course to the collection period) tweets citing more than one domain.
      • This is the difference between implicit behaviors (clicking, reading, navigating) and explicit actions. Twitter monitors what people are willing to write
    • Interestingly, the two most influential Domains in Alternative Narrative Tweets Interesting, the two most highly tweeted domains were both associated with significant automated account or “bot” activity. The Real Strategy, an alternative news site with a conspiracy theory orientation, is the most tweeted domain in our dataset (by far). The temporal signature of tweets citing this domain reveals a consistent pattern of coordinated bursts of activity at regular intervals generated by 200 accounts that appear to be connected to each other (via following relationships) and coordinated through an external tool.
      • There is clearly a desire to have a greater effect through the use of bots. Two questions: 1) How does this work? 2) How did this emerge?
    • The InfoWars domain, an alternative news website that focuses on Alt-Right and conspiracy theory themes, was the second-most tweeted domain, but as (Figure 1) shows it was only tenuously connected to one other node.
      • Why? Is InforWars more polarized? Is it using something other than Twitter?
      • Infowars Inbound links
        Domain score Domain trust score Domain Backlinks IP Address Country First seen Last seen
        0 0 breakingnewsfeed.com 1857029 us 2015-09-28 2017-03-26
        4 4 e-graviton.com 1335835 us 2014-01-19 2017-03-21
        33 39 prisonplanet.com 648958 us 2013-06-07 2017-03-25
        1 0 nwostop.com 346153 us 2014-01-19 2017-03-21
        13 31 nwoo.org 182060 cz 2013-06-07 2017-03-26
        12 30 conservative-headlines.com 151778 us 2016-06-27 2017-03-22
        1 0 america2fear.com 92766 us 2014-11-14 2017-03-23
        4 29 subbmitt.com 49288 us 2015-02-04 2017-03-26
        14 30 anotherdotcom.com 47195 us 2014-10-02 2017-03-20
        1 0 exzacktamountas.com 43748 us 2016-06-08 2017-03-24
  • when we look at connections between tweets, accounts, and stance towards an alternative narrative (Figure 2), we see that alternative media sites are generally cited to promote these theories, while mainstream media are A) cited for neutral content as evidence to support these theories; or B) cited for a denial of the alternative narrative to promote and/or counter-attack that denial.
    • In an information-space context, this is interesting. There space represented by the mainstream media is represented so there is a continuum. I would submit that the opposite of the alternative fact media is the peer-reviewed research community, which has its own rich network that connects somewhat peripherally to the MSM
  • Another theme we noted across the majority of domains was the appropriation of the “fake news” argument to attack mainstream media.
    • Is this because the MSM has become de-localized? The connection of the local paper (for example) to local news that grounds it by extension to a trustworthy portrayal of distant news?
  • In this way, a “critically thinking” citizen seeking more information to confirm their views about the danger of vaccines may find themselves exposed to and eventually infected by other conspiracy theories
    • That’s why this is a design problem.