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Towards Understanding the Information Ecosystem Through the Lens of Multiple Web Communities

by   Savvas Zannettou, et al.

The Web consists of numerous Web communities, news sources, and services, which are often exploited by various entities for the dissemination of false information. Yet, we lack tools and techniques to effectively track the propagation of information across the multiple diverse communities, and to model the interplay and influence between them. Also, we lack an understanding of what the role and impact of emerging communities and services on the Web are, and how such communities are exploited by bad actors that spread false and weaponized information. In this thesis, we study the information ecosystem on the Web by presenting a typology that includes the various types of false information, the involved actors and their possible motives. Then, we follow a data-driven cross-platform quantitative approach to analyze billions of posts from Twitter, Reddit, 4chan's /pol/, and Gab, to shed light on: 1) how news and memes travel from one Web community to another and how we can model and quantify the influence between Web communities; 2) characterizing the role of emerging Web communities and services on the Web, by studying Gab and two Web archiving services, namely the Wayback Machine and; and 3) how popular Web communities are exploited by state-sponsored actors for the purpose of spreading disinformation. Our analysis reveal that fringe Web communities like 4chan's /pol/ and The_Donald subreddit have a disproportionate influence on mainstream communities like Twitter with regard to the dissemination of news and memes. We find that Gab acts as the new hub for the alt-right community, while for Web archiving services we find that they can be misused to penalize ad revenue from news sources with conflicting ideology. Finally, when studying state-sponsored actors, we find that they were particularly influential in spreading news on popular communities like Twitter and Reddit.


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