Affinity Workshop: Women in Machine Learning

Characteristics of White Helmets Disinformation vs COVID-19 Misinformation

Anika Halappanavar · Maria Glenski


Disinformation campaigns and misinformation hinder the very foundations of democracy and can negatively influence public opinion. It is critical to understand how it spreads to enable mitigations to be developed. In this analysis, we contrast shared and unique misinformation spread patterns in different settings, comparing the rapid spreading of multiple misinformation narratives regarding the global COVID-19 pandemic to disinformation campaigns against a specific organization (White Helmets). We use two datasets for our analyses. The first is a Twitter dataset that was collected from March 7th to April 19th, 2020, to observe the early response to the COVID -19 pandemic and included 40 narratives, with 250,202 posts from 197,715 users. COVID-19 Misinformation has been spread through many narratives as we observe in this dataset: false cures, origin of the virus, weaponization of the virus, nature of the virus, emergency responses, etc. The second is a dataset collected from April 1st, 2018, to June 6th, 2019, that encompasses 48 unique narratives among two social media platforms – Twitter (167,017 posts from 56,679 users) and YouTube (15,567 posts from 9,176 users) – that target the reputation of the White Helmets (Syrian Civil Defense) organization. The organization has been a target of disinformation campaigns that have been launched against them in order to change public opinion about them.

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