Joint with UCLA Movements, Organizations, and Markets Working Group
Associate Professor of Communication, University of Pennsylvania – Annenberg School of Communication
Title: The Spread of Information on Social Media during Contentious Political Events
Abstract: Information manipulation is widespread in today’s media environment. Online networks have disrupted the gatekeeping role of traditional media by allowing various actors to influence the public agenda; they have also allowed automated accounts (or bots) to blend with human activity in the flow of information. In this talk, I will discuss evidence assessing the impact that bots have on the dissemination of content during contentious political events evolving in real-time on social media. I will focus on events of heightened political tension because they are particularly susceptible to information campaigns designed to mislead or exacerbate conflict. This research employs tools from network science, natural language processing, and machine learning to analyze the diffusion structure, the content of the messages diffused, and the actors behind those messages as the political events unfolded. I will show that verified accounts are significantly more visible than unverified bots in the coverage of the events but also that bots attract more attention than human accounts. The findings highlight that social media and the web are very different news ecosystems in terms of prevalent news sources and that both humans and bots contribute to generate discrepancy in news visibility with their activity. They also highlight the importance of clearly defining the policies that underlie the verification process of social media accounts.