by Jiayi Young, September 7, 2020
Four years ago, I set out on a journey determined to figure out a way to track the spread of disinformation on Twitter and make the information available to the public. At the time, social media, such as Twitter, displayed enormous potential for swaying public opinion, and I wondered how it worked and wanted access to it. I was curious about the dynamics between beliefs and power in an engineered environment designed to reverberate sentiments where what was not there was artificially inflated and what was not true was manufactured to be true.
Four years later, we find ourselves in a place where Twitter is a principal place where users fabricate and fan disinformation, and the activities are incessant. What is more? The world is grappling with a compounding effects of social, economic, and political problems. And on top of it, we are coping with a pandemic that seems to have no end. There is so much at stake, and everyone has so many concerns. When I was a child, if I had a bad day, my mother would always say to me "明天会更好" (tomorrow will be a better day). I can't help but wonder what tomorrow would hold.
Project Echo is a public participatory platform where the fabrication of the fake meets the real and profound personal concerns of the everyday. In fleeting moments, we think about home, family, and friends; we worry about safety and the future; we ponder life and death, experience love and hate, and dread and hope. It is in these flashes of ephemerality, our space is truly our own and deeply personal. These thoughts offer a glimpse into the deeper layers of culture where our shared humanity and resilience are found.
This project juxtaposes tweets of disinformation and thoughts of fleeting moments in one place. As artifacts of this transitional moment in history, they challenge a virtue we have known for as long we have existed - telling the truth! This project stands as art to bring consciousness to the nature of a collective human experience today, and at the same time, is intended as activism in the public place as a stance against the culture of the fake.
My mother also taught me "人不能说慌" (one shall not lie). I can't help but wonder where we are with this as a society today.
/////// PARTICIPATE >> Send in your thoughts of fleeting moments!
Project Echo is an interdisciplinary project that draws on expertise in art, design, engineering, and political science. The project includes two components. Via this publicly accessible web site, the project live tracks election-related disinformation on Twitter, visualizes the spread, identifies top influencers, and catches possible maliciously organized bot campaigns. Then, as critical interventions in swing cities and towns, billboards and street posters are activated to promote truth-telling and empower agency in the American voters. This project is nonpartisan and provides information for voters to make their own decisions.
The data flow of this project involves the following four steps.
Step 1: Curation of Journalist-verified Disinformation
Each week, we manually curate a handful set of election-related journalist-verified disinformation from nonpartisan fact-checking websites, such as PolitiFact, Snopes, FactCheck, Truth or Fiction, Hoax Slayer, and Urban Legends.
Step 2: Data Collection
These topics are then live queried on Twitter every 15 minutes. We combine the use of Twitter Premium Historical API and Twitter Standard API to maximize relevant Tweet collection quantity by using keyword iteration methods and the effective use of API-specific operators. If a surge in activity is detected, we might choose to backfill historical data to the first instance of the occurrence of the topic.
Step 3: Data Analytics
We then perform data analyses to find top influencers in the topic. A top influencer is defined as those who receive Influence Scores of greater than the top five percentile of all tweets collected in a topic. Our Influence Score is calculated by the sum of all retweets, replies, quotes, and faves a Twitter account receives. We also run “botness" calculations by using the Botometer Pro API developed by Indiana University's Observatory on Social Media (OSoMe). For each topic, we indicate when do these top influencers appear and how likely the user is a human versus a Twitter bot.
Step 4: Data Visualization
Our tracking page then charts these analyses and updates them as new Twitter activities occurs. All activities are then registered on the charts as soon as backend calculations are completed. A time countdown bar on the top of the page indicates time left before the next time data query occurs.