Cross-platform disinformation campaigns: lessons learned and next steps

Ed Note – A summary below of peer reviewed research of interest.

Harvard Kennedy School Misinformation Review

Cross-platform disinformation campaigns: lessons learned and next steps

We conducted a mixed-method, interpretative analysis of an online, cross-platform disinformation campaign targeting the White Helmets, a rescue group operating in rebel-held areas of Syria that have become the subject of a persistent effort of delegitimization. This research helps to conceptualize what a disinformation campaign is and how it works. Based on what we learned from this case study, we conclude that a comprehensive understanding of disinformation requires accounting for the spread of content across platforms and that social media platforms should increase collaboration to detect and characterize disinformation campaigns.

By Tom Wilson and Kate Starbird

Research Questions

  • How do disinformation campaigns work across online platforms to achieve their strategic goals?
  • How do governments and other political entities support disinformation campaigns?

Essay Summary

    • We adopted a mixed-method approach to examine digital trace data from Twitter and YouTube;
    • We first mapped the structure of the Twitter conversation around White Helmets, identifying a pro-White Helmets cluster (a subnetwork of accounts that retweet each other) and an anti-White Helmets cluster;
    • Then, we compared activities of the two separate clusters, especially how they leverage YouTube videos (through embedded links) in their efforts;
    • We found that, on Twitter, content challenging the White Helmets is much more prevalent than content supporting them;
    • While the White Helmets receive episodic coverage from “mainstream” media, the campaign against them sustains itself through consistent and complementary use of social media platforms and “alternative” news websites;
    • Influential users on both sides of the White Helmets Twitter conversation post links to videos, but the anti-White Helmets network is more effective in leveraging YouTube as a resource for their Twitter campaign;
  • State-sponsored media such as Russia Today (RT) support the anti-White Helmets Twitter campaign in multiple ways, e.g., by providing sourced content for articles and videos and amplifying the voices of social media influencers.