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Muddied Waters: Online rumors, conspiracy theories and disinformation in the context of crisis response
Assistant Professor, Human Centered Design & Engineering
University of Washington
Social media are now an established feature of crisis response. People—including emergency responders, members of the affected community, and remote onlookers—are repeatedly turning to platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat to seek and share information about crisis events. However, there remain significant challenges to the utility of social media in this context—including rumors and misinformation. Over the last few years, my collaborators and I have conducted extensive research on online rumoring during crisis events, in part focused on how rumors are corrected (or not). Recently, our work has revealed how a specific subsection of the alternative media ecosystem facilitates the spread of disinformation—in the form of conspiracy theories or “alternative narratives” about crisis events—via social media. This disinformation is often employed as part of a political agenda and poses new information security risks. In this talk, I’ll present some of the most significant findings of our research on rumoring, rumor correcting, and the intentional spread of disinformation online during crisis events and discuss some of the implications—for emergency responders, technology builders, and 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.