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From “nasa lies” to “reptilian eyes”: mapping communication about 10 conspiracy theories, their communities, and main propagators on twitter


Mahl, Daniela; Zeng, Jing; Schäfer, Mike S (2021). From “nasa lies” to “reptilian eyes”: mapping communication about 10 conspiracy theories, their communities, and main propagators on twitter. Social Media and Society, 7(2):12.

Abstract

In recent years, conspiracy theories have pervaded mainstream discourse. Social media, in particular, reinforce their visibility and propagation. However, most prior studies on the dissemination of conspiracy theories in digital environments have focused on individual cases or conspiracy theories as a generic phenomenon. Our research addresses this gap by comparing the 10 most prominent conspiracy theories on Twitter, the communities supporting them, and their main propagators. Drawing on a dataset of 106,807 tweets published over 6 weeks from 2018 to 2019, we combine large-scale network analysis and in-depth qualitative analysis of user profiles. Our findings illustrate which conspiracy theories are prevalent on Twitter, and how different conspiracy theories are separated or interconnected within communities. In addition, our study provides empirical support for previous assertions that extremist accounts are being “deplatformed” by leading social media companies. We also discuss how the implications of these findings elucidate the role of societal and political contexts in propagating conspiracy theories on social media.

Abstract

In recent years, conspiracy theories have pervaded mainstream discourse. Social media, in particular, reinforce their visibility and propagation. However, most prior studies on the dissemination of conspiracy theories in digital environments have focused on individual cases or conspiracy theories as a generic phenomenon. Our research addresses this gap by comparing the 10 most prominent conspiracy theories on Twitter, the communities supporting them, and their main propagators. Drawing on a dataset of 106,807 tweets published over 6 weeks from 2018 to 2019, we combine large-scale network analysis and in-depth qualitative analysis of user profiles. Our findings illustrate which conspiracy theories are prevalent on Twitter, and how different conspiracy theories are separated or interconnected within communities. In addition, our study provides empirical support for previous assertions that extremist accounts are being “deplatformed” by leading social media companies. We also discuss how the implications of these findings elucidate the role of societal and political contexts in propagating conspiracy theories on social media.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:06 Faculty of Arts > Department of Communication and Media Research
Dewey Decimal Classification:070 News media, journalism & publishing
Scopus Subject Areas:Social Sciences & Humanities > Cultural Studies
Social Sciences & Humanities > Communication
Physical Sciences > Computer Science Applications
Uncontrolled Keywords:conspiracy theory, social media, twitter
Language:English
Date:12 May 2021
Deposited On:23 Jul 2021 14:48
Last Modified:18 Dec 2023 08:11
Publisher:Sage Publications
ISSN:2056-3051
OA Status:Gold
Free access at:Publisher DOI. An embargo period may apply.
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1177/20563051211017482
  • Content: Published Version
  • Language: German
  • Licence: Creative Commons: Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)