Social media, data journalism and #gamergate
I thought that yesterday’s brief post on #gamergate would be all I had to say on the subject – but two really interesting posts caught my attention, that I want to bring to yours.
First up, some serious data work. Andy Baio has done the hard work of scraping 3 days of #gamergate and #notyourshield tweets, and done some analysis on them. His central finding is this:
Two massive, impenetrable hairballs of people that want little to do with one another, only listening to their side and firing volleys across the chasm.
And that’s visualised beautifully.
He also points out that the average age of the Twitter accounts used by #gamergate supporters skews very, very recent, as the graph at the top of this post clearly shows. Baio’s careful to not suggest that it’s the result of sock puppetry – but it’s another data point to suggest that there’s some of that at work.
My friend Kevin Anderson weighs in on the subject of sock puppets and false flag campaigns:
When you look at the techniques being used by some of these groups, such as creating sockpuppet social media accounts and using feminist critiques as a weapon against Brianna Wu (to demonstrate that her games were “anti-feminist”), you quickly get a sense of how the next partisan political scorched earth campaign will be fought. Sockpuppets will become the weaponised drones of popular opinion, amplifying marginal views so that they swamp mainstream opinion
And he raises a spectre of this becoming standard operating procedure for fringe groups wanting to persuade the media that they’re more numerous than they really are:
Who needs robo-callers push-polling voters when you’ve got an army of AI-driven Twitter and Facebook accounts all spewing your line and endlessly quoted by cable TV show hosts who don’t care if the accounts are real, only if they reinforce their own talking points? They’ll be found out eventually, but it will be too late.
It’s really beholden on us as journalists to develop a sophisticated enough understanding of social media and how it operates, and the data skills to analyse behaviours in the way that Baio did, to counteract this. If we take one thing away from #gamergate, it’s that a minority can magnify their voices through smart use of technology. (It’s arguable that ISIS is another example of this.)
Social media and data journalism aren’t quirky digital add-ons – they’re essential tools in our journalistic arsenal to understand, interrogate and report on the world around us. If we don’t equip ourselves with these tools, we’ll be used by those who have done so.
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