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Tracking Fringe and Coordinated Activity on Twitter Leading Up To the US Capitol Attack

by   Vishnuprasad Padinjaredath Suresh, et al.
USC Information Sciences Institute
Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche

The aftermath of the 2020 US Presidential Election witnessed an unprecedented attack on the democratic values of the country through the violent insurrection at Capitol Hill on January 6th, 2021. The attack was fueled by the proliferation of conspiracy theories and misleading claims about the integrity of the election pushed by political elites and fringe communities on social media. In this study, we explore the evolution of fringe content and conspiracy theories on Twitter in the seven months leading up to the Capitol attack. We examine the suspicious coordinated activity carried out by users sharing fringe content, finding evidence of common adversarial manipulation techniques ranging from targeted amplification to manufactured consensus. Further, we map out the temporal evolution of, and the relationship between, fringe and conspiracy theories, which eventually coalesced into the rhetoric of a stolen election, with the hashtag #stopthesteal, alongside QAnon-related narratives. Our findings further highlight how social media platforms offer fertile ground for the widespread proliferation of conspiracies during major societal events, which can potentially lead to offline coordinated actions and organized violence.


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