Nav: Home

Research sheds light on conspiracy theory elements

October 30, 2018

What do online conspiracy theorists discuss; what are the recurring elements in these conversations; and what do they tell us about the way people think?

As Tanushree Mitra, assistant professor of computer science and a faculty member at the Discovery Analytics Center, and Mattia Samory, a post doc in the Department of Computer Science, set out to find answers, they turned to Reddit, a social media platform of thousands of smaller communities or "subreddits" connecting users with similar interests.

In the r/conspiracy subreddit, Mitra and Samory analyzed more than 200,000 users and 6 million comments over a 10-year period, focusing on the key elements of a conspiracy theory: conspiratorial agents, the actions they perform, and their targets.

They will present their research at the 2018 ACM Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing Nov. 3-7, in New York City.

Mitra and Samory extracted 33 topics for their study. Following are some of their findings:

"Big pharma," "vaccines," and "GMO" decry corruption of health services while promoting the virtues of a "natural" lifestyle.

"U.S. elections" and "email scandal" focus especially on the 2016 elections and include allegations of voter fraud.

Distrust in the government is evident in the topic "U.S. Congress and bills," which more broadly discusses policy changes allegedly aimed at harming the public.

The nefarious consequences of law enforcement are extreme through the topic "police brutality," which portrays police officers primarily in unwarranted outbursts of physical violence.

"NSA Whistleblowers" and "NSA tracking" criticize governmental agencies with three primary allegations: privacy breach through mass surveillance, opinion manipulation through disinformation campaigns, and false flag military operations.

"Banks and money" reflect the concern that multinational corporations may circumvent local regulations.

"Syria" and the "Israel-Palestine conflict" discuss diplomacy in the Middle East while "Eurozone" discusses how phenomena, such as the immigration crisis, the Greek Depression, and Brexit, may destabilize European politics.

Reactions to dramatic events also resonate in r/conspiracy discussion. "Some conspiracy theories on dramatic events remain relevant for decades, as evidenced by the 'JFK. Assassination' topic," said Mitra.

Other r/conspiracy discussion is apparent in topics like "Fukushima," "Malaysia Airlines," and "shooting." In particular, topics "9/11 inside job," "WTC demolition," "Australia 9/11 Jews," "9/11 suspects," attempt to frame the 9/11 events as a false flag operation run by Jews, an inside job by the U.S. government, or the outcome of a corporate strategy for profit, among other claims.

"By computationally detecting agent-action-target triplets in conspiratorial statements, and by grouping them into semantically coherent clusters, we were able to develop a notion of narrative-motif to detect recurring patterns," Mitra said.

A narrative-motif, such as "governmental agency-control-communications," appears in diverse conspiratorial statements alleging that governmental agencies control information to nefarious ends, according to Mitra. Narrative-motifs that focus on minority religions, immigration, war, and globalization all expose perceived threats from the point of view of the "Western world" ingroup. "Country-threatens peace-through military" and "religious group-attacks-population" focus on national and religious outgroups as collective conspirators. These agents perform violent or militaristic actions to defeat a cultural opponent. "Organization-pursues-profit" pictures globalization as a threat to the boundaries that identify a nation. Here, banks and corporations seek profit in a frame of global markets and values to the detriment of their local counterpart.

Because leaders have a role in representing public opinion, public trust is a frequent issue in related conspiracy theories. "Political leader-usurps-power" discussions frame powerful political leaders as individuals in a quest for public influence and personal gain. Powerful individuals also appear as conspiratorial agents in the narrative-motif "official-discusses-peer or document."

The researchers found that narrative-motifs expose commonalities between multiple conspiracy theories even when they refer to different events or circumstances. References to the 9/11 attacks also allude to larger-scale conspiracy theories involving the U.S. government, foreign intelligence, and religious groups. The topic "climate change" suspects that environmental phenomenon is a machination of lobbying academics and governments.

"Adopters of one-conspiracy theory typically believe in more than just one. For example, anti-vaxxers often discuss GMO conspiracy theories," Samory said. "This research suggests a way to find which conspiracy theories are related by uncovering their common narratives.

"Our study also suggests that alternative media spreading conspiracy theories appear to better align with anti- and pro-globalism than with left- and right-leaning political ideologies," he said.

Read the complete study here.
-end-


Virginia Tech

Related Conspiracy Theories Articles:

Research proposes new theories about nature of Earth's iron
New research challenges the prevailing theory that the unique nature of Earth's iron was the result of how its core was formed billions of years ago.
Social exclusion leads to conspiratorial thinking, study finds
According to a Princeton University study, social exclusion leads to conspiratorial thinking.
Emotions are cognitive, not innate, researchers conclude
Emotions are not innately programmed into our brains, but, in fact, are cognitive states resulting from the gathering of information, New York University Professor Joseph LeDoux and Richard Brown, a professor at the City University of New York, conclude.
How race consciousness influences your likelihood of getting a flu shot
A study led by Professor Sandra Crouse Quinn in the University of Maryland School of Public Health is the first to explore racial factors and how they may influence attitudes and behaviors towards the flu vaccine.
More are positive about HPV vaccine on Twitter than not, Drexel study finds
A Drexel University study into sentiments toward the HPV vaccine on Twitter found that significantly more tweets post positive sentiments toward vaccines, such as the value of prevention and protection, than not.
A fundamental theory of mass generation
A team of four theoretical physicists, Francesco Sannino from Cp3-Origins at the University of Southern Denmark, Alessandro Strumia from CERN theory division and Pisa Univ., Andrea Tesi from the Enrico Fermi Institute at the University of Chicago in US, and Elena Vigiani from Pisa University have recently published in the Journal of High Energy Physics their work
How water flows near the superhydrophobic surface
The international scientific team, led by Olga Vinogradova (Professor at the Faculty of Physics, the Lomonosov Moscow State University and the chief of laboratory at Institute of Physical chemistry and Electrochemistry, Russian Academy of Sciences) has managed to characterize theoretically the behavior of water in close vicinity to a superhydrophobic surface.
What do Americans fear? Chapman University's 3rd Annual Survey of American Fears released
Chapman University recently completed its third annual Chapman University Survey of American Fears (2016).
Surveyed scientists debunk chemtrails conspiracy theory
The world's leading atmospheric scientists overwhelmingly deny the existence of a secret, elite-driven plot to release harmful chemicals into the air from high-flying aircraft, according to the first peer-reviewed journal paper to address the 'chemtrails' conspiracy theory.
'Chemtrails' not real, say leading atmospheric science experts
Well-understood physical and chemical processes can easily explain the alleged evidence of a secret, large-scale atmospheric spraying program, commonly referred to as 'chemtrails' or 'covert geoengineering.' A survey of the world's leading atmospheric scientists categorically rejects the existence of a secret spraying program.

Related Conspiracy Theories Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Digital Manipulation
Technology has reshaped our lives in amazing ways. But at what cost? This hour, TED speakers reveal how what we see, read, believe — even how we vote — can be manipulated by the technology we use. Guests include journalist Carole Cadwalladr, consumer advocate Finn Myrstad, writer and marketing professor Scott Galloway, behavioral designer Nir Eyal, and computer graphics researcher Doug Roble.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#529 Do You Really Want to Find Out Who's Your Daddy?
At least some of you by now have probably spit into a tube and mailed it off to find out who your closest relatives are, where you might be from, and what terrible diseases might await you. But what exactly did you find out? And what did you give away? In this live panel at Awesome Con we bring in science writer Tina Saey to talk about all her DNA testing, and bioethicist Debra Mathews, to determine whether Tina should have done it at all. Related links: What FamilyTreeDNA sharing genetic data with police means for you Crime solvers embraced...