A University of Washington professor started studying social networks to help people respond to disasters. But she got dragged down a rabbit hole of twitter-boosted conspiracy theories, and ended up mapping our political moment.
It started with the Boston marathon bombing, four years ago. University of Washington professor Kate Starbird was sifting through thousands of tweets sent in the aftermath and noticed something strange.
Too strange for a university professor to take seriously.
“There was a significant volume of social-media traffic that blamed the Navy SEALs for the bombing,” Starbird told me the other day in her office. “It was real tinfoil-hat stuff. So we ignored it.”
Same thing after the mass shooting that killed nine at Umpqua Community College in Oregon: a burst of social-media activity calling the massacre a fake, a stage play by “crisis actors” for political purposes.