Heroes & Villains: Social Media Misinformation Following the 2017 Terror Attacks

Crime & Security Research Institute (CSRI) Researchers Dr Helen Innes and Diyana Dobreva will be presenting their paper ‘Heroes & Villains: Social Media Misinformation Following the 2017 Terror Attacks’ at the 6th Military Psychology Conference on 8th November at The Ark Conference Centre in Basingstoke. 

The paper aims to understand how, why and when misinformation circulates on social media following a terrorist incident.  It focuses on the propagation of narratives that construct individuals as moral actors (‘heroes’) at one extreme and ‘villains’ at the other.

In the emotional aftermath of terrorism, people increasingly use social media to: (1) validate and share pro-social narratives that highlight ‘good’ in the face of tragedy and (2) participate in sense-making about the event, including assigning blame and responsibility, that are more politically oriented.  Social media reaction to terrorist incidents that occurred in England in 2017 are brought together in this paper as a single evidence base to capture and robustly report on specific exemplars of hero and villain narratives.

Researchers captured Twitter data using CSRI’s social media monitoring and analysis platform, Sentinel. Sentinel uses configurable ontologies relating to specific events or incidents and affords a capability to systematically collect material.  Quantitative, qualitative and social network analysis techniques were applied to these data and the data corpus was complemented with the manual collection of open source Facebook data to cross-reference the influence of misinformation across two main social media platforms.

The authors conclude that hero and villain narratives meet a psychological need but are vulnerable to the spread of misinformation, whereby the source and/or message content is later contested or falsified. The implications for policy efforts to counter or limit the spread of misinformation by foreign political actors, automated bots and individual users, online and offline, is discussed.