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Kate Starbird, University of Washington

Unraveling the ‘Big Lie’: Participatory Disinformation and Elections 2020/2022

Kate StarbirdIn this talk, I’ll present research results from ongoing efforts to understand the spread of disinformation about the 2020 and 2022 elections. First, I’ll describe the work of the Election Integrity Partnership — a multi-stakeholder collaboration that addressed mis- and disinformation about the 2020 U.S. election in (near) real time through rapid response data science. Next, I’ll take you through some of our analyses to show how the “Big Lie” – the sustained effort to sow doubt in the results of the 2020 election – took shape on social media platforms throughout the latter half of 2020 and continued through the 2022 election season. I’ll highlight the campaign’s participatory nature and show how the production of online disinformation integrates the activities of elites in politics and media with the work of online crowds. Finally, I’ll conclude with reflections on the threat of pervasive disinformation to democratic societies and offer some recommendations for what we can do to address this critical challenge.

Kate Starbird is an Associate Professor in the Department of Human Centered Design & Engineering (HCDE) at the University of Washington (UW) and is currently the Director of the UW Center for an Informed Public. Dr. Starbird’s research sits at the intersection of human-computer interaction and the emerging field of crisis informatics – i.e., the study of how social media and other information-communication technologies are used during crisis events. Currently, her work focuses on the production and spread of online rumors, misinformation, and disinformation during crises – including natural disasters, political disruptions, and a global pandemic. In particular, she investigates the participatory nature of online disinformation campaigns, exploring both top-down and bottom-up dynamics. Dr. Starbird received her B.S. in Computer Science from Stanford (1997) and her Ph.D. in Technology, Media and Society from the University of Colorado (2012).