Mapping the Narrative Ecosystem of Conspiracy Theories in Online Anti-vaccination Discussions

Joshua Introne, Ania Korsunska, Leni Krsova, Zefeng Zhang

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

Abstract

Recent research on conspiracy theories labels conspiracism as a distinct and deficient epistemic process. However, the tendency to pathologize conspiracism obscures the fact that it is a diverse and dynamic collective sensemaking process, transacted in public on the web. Here, we adopt a narrative framework to introduce a new analytical approach for examining online conspiracism. Narrative plays an important role because it is central to human cognition as well as being domain agnostic, and so can serve as a bridge between conspiracism and other modes of knowledge production. To illustrate the utility of our approach, we use it to analyze conspiracy theories identified in conversations across three different anti-vaccination discussion forums. Our approach enables us to capture more abstract categories without hiding the underlying diversity of the raw data. We find that there are dominant narrative themes across sites, but that there is also a tremendous amount of diversity within these themes. Our initial observations raise the possibility that different communities play different roles in the collective construction of conspiracy theories online. This offers one potential route for understanding not only cross-sectional differentiation, but the longitudinal dynamics of the narrative in future work. In particular, we are interested to examine how activity within the framework of the narrative shifts in response to news events and social media platforms' nascent efforts to control different types of misinformation. Such analysis will help us to better understand how collectively constructed conspiracy narratives adapt in a shifting media ecosystem.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publication11th International Conference on Social Media and Society
Subtitle of host publicationDiverse Voices - Promises and Perils of Social Media for Diversity, SMSociety 2020
EditorsAnatoliy Gruzd, Philip Mai, Raquel Recuero, Angel Hernandez-Garcia, Chei Sian Lee, James Cook, Jaigris Hodson, Bree McEwan, Jill Hopke
PublisherAssociation for Computing Machinery
Pages184-192
Number of pages9
ISBN (Electronic)9781450376884
DOIs
StatePublished - Jul 22 2020
Event11th International Conference on Social Media and Society: Diverse Voices - Promises and Perils of Social Media for Diversity, SMSociety 2020 - Virtual, Online, Canada
Duration: Jul 22 2020Jul 24 2020

Publication series

NameACM International Conference Proceeding Series

Conference

Conference11th International Conference on Social Media and Society: Diverse Voices - Promises and Perils of Social Media for Diversity, SMSociety 2020
CountryCanada
CityVirtual, Online
Period7/22/207/24/20

Keywords

  • Conspiracy Theories
  • Misinformation
  • Narratives
  • Social Media

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Software
  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition
  • Computer Networks and Communications

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  • Cite this

    Introne, J., Korsunska, A., Krsova, L., & Zhang, Z. (2020). Mapping the Narrative Ecosystem of Conspiracy Theories in Online Anti-vaccination Discussions. In A. Gruzd, P. Mai, R. Recuero, A. Hernandez-Garcia, C. Sian Lee, J. Cook, J. Hodson, B. McEwan, & J. Hopke (Eds.), 11th International Conference on Social Media and Society: Diverse Voices - Promises and Perils of Social Media for Diversity, SMSociety 2020 (pp. 184-192). (ACM International Conference Proceeding Series). Association for Computing Machinery. https://doi.org/10.1145/3400806.3400828