Fringe players on political Twitter: source-sharing dynamics, partisanship and problematic actors

Maarten Groen, Marloes Geboers

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterAcademic

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So-called fake news and problematic information on social media assume an increasingly important roles in political debate. Focusing on the (early) run-up to and aftermath of the 2020 U.S. presidential elections, this study examines the extent of the problematic information in the most engaged-with content and most active users in ‘political Twitter’. We demarcated three time spans, the first surrounding Super Tuesday (March 2-22, 2020), the second providing a snapshot of the aftermath of the elections and the run-up to both the Senate run-off elections in Georgia (December 24, 2020 – January 4, 2021) and the (unforeseen) Capitol Hill riots on January 6, 2021. In the third time span (March 10-21, 2021), when election activities had ceased, we examine the effects of Twitter’s deplatforming (or so-called purge) of accounts after the Capitol riots in January, 2021. In order to shed light on the magnitude of problematic information, we mapped shared sources, labelled them and assessed the actors engaged in their dissemination. It was found that overall, mainstream sources are shared more often than problematic ones, but the percentage of problematic sources was much higher in December compared to both the March, 2020 and 2021 periods. Significantly, (hyper)partisan sources are close to half of all sources shared in the first two periods, implying a robust presence of them on social media. By March 2021, both the share of problematic and of (hyper)partisan sources had decreased significantly, suggesting an impact from Twitter’s deplatforming actions. Additionally, highly active, problematic users (fake profiles, bots, or locked/suspended accounts) were found on both sides of the political spectrum, albeit more abundantly from conservative users.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe propagation of misinformation in social media
Subtitle of host publicationa cross-platform analysis
EditorsRichard Rogers
Place of PublicationAmsterdam
PublisherAmsterdam University Press
ISBN (Electronic)9789048554249
ISBN (Print)9789463720762
Publication statusPublished - 2023


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