Since 2013, my collaborators and I have conducted research on how rumors and misinformation spread through social media during crisis events. Recently, our work has revealed how a subsection of the alternative media ecosystem facilitates the spread of disinformation—in the form of conspiracy theories or “alternative narratives” about man-made crisis events. This disinformation is often employed as part of a political agenda and poses new information security risks. In this talk, I’ll present highlights from our research on alternative narratives, describing some of the specific tactics being used to spread disinformation. I’ll also share some preliminary findings on more recent work examining the structure and dynamics of the media ecosystem that has taken shape around the ongoing crisis in Syria. Finally, I’ll discuss some of the broader implications of online disinformation for emergency and humanitarian responders as well as society at large.
Kate Starbird is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Human Centered Design & Engineering (HCDE) at the University of Washington (UW). Kate's research is situated within human-computer interaction (HCI) and the emerging field of crisis informatics—the study of the how information-communication technologies (ICTs) are used during crisis events. One aspect of her research focuses on how online rumors spread—and how online rumors are corrected—during natural disasters and man-made crisis events. More recently, she has begun exploring the propagation of disinformation and political propaganda through online spaces. Kate earned her PhD from the University of Colorado at Boulder in Technology, Media and Society and holds a BS in Computer Science from Stanford University.