Los Alamos National Laboratory

New AI tool tracks evolution of COVID-19 conspiracy theories on social media

Algorithm developed by Los Alamos National Laboratory researchers could help public health officials combat misinformation

Newswise — LOS ALAMOS, N.M., April 19, 2021—A new machine-learning program accurately identifies COVID-19-related conspiracy theories on social media and models how they evolved over time—a tool that could someday help public health officials combat misinformation online.

“A lot of machine-learning studies related to misinformation on social media focus on identifying different kinds of conspiracy theories,” said Courtney Shelley, a postdoctoral researcher in the Information Systems and Modeling Group at Los Alamos National Laboratory and co-author of the study that was published last week in the Journal of Medical Internet Research. “Instead, we wanted to create a more cohesive understanding of how misinformation changes as it spreads. Because people tend to believe the first message they encounter, public health officials could someday monitor which conspiracy theories are gaining traction on social media and craft factual public information campaigns to preempt widespread acceptance of falsehoods.” 

The study, titled “Thought I’d Share First,” used publicly available, anonymized Twitter data to characterize four COVID-19 conspiracy theory themes and provide context for each through the first five months of the pandemic. The four themes the study examined were that 5G cell towers spread the virus; that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation engineered or has otherwise malicious intent related to COVID-19; that the virus was bioengineered or was developed in a laboratory; and that the COVID-19 vaccines, which were then all still in development, would be dangerous. 

“We began with a dataset of approximately 1.8 million tweets that contained COVID-19 keywords or were from health-related Twitter accounts,” said Dax Gerts, a computer scientist also in Los Alamos’ Information Systems and Modeling Group and the study’s co-author. “From this body of data, we identified subsets that matched the four conspiracy theories using pattern filtering, and hand labeled several hundred tweets in each conspiracy theory category to construct training sets.” 

Using the data collected for each of the four theories, the team built random forest machine-learning, or artificial intelligence (AI), models that categorized tweets as COVID-19 misinformation or not. 

“This allowed us to observe the way individuals talk about these conspiracy theories on social media, and observe changes over time,” said Gerts.

The study showed that misinformation tweets contain more negative sentiment when compared to factual tweets and that conspiracy theories evolve over time, incorporating details from unrelated conspiracy theories as well as real-world events. 

For example, Bill Gates participated in a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” in March 2020, which highlighted Gates-funded research to develop injectable invisible ink that could be used to record vaccinations. Immediately after, there was an increase in the prominence of words associated with vaccine-averse conspiracy theories suggesting the COVID-19 vaccine would secretly microchip individuals for population control.

Furthermore, the study found that a supervised learning technique could be used to automatically identify conspiracy theories, and that an unsupervised learning approach (dynamic topic modeling) could be used to explore changes in word importance among topics within each theory.

“It’s important for public health officials to know how conspiracy theories are evolving and gaining traction over time,” said Shelley. “If not, they run the risk of inadvertently publicizing conspiracy theories that might otherwise ‘die on the vine.’ So, knowing how conspiracy theories are changing and perhaps incorporating other theories or real-world events is important when strategizing how to counter them with factual public information campaigns.”

Link to video
: Interview with Ashlynn Daughton, an information scientist in the Information Systems and Modeling Group at Los Alamos National Laboratory, and co-author of the study: https://youtu.be/AssdxCBdb-k

Paper: Gerts D, Shelley C, Parikh N, Pitts T, Watson Ross C, Fairchild G, Vaquera Chavez N, Daughton A. “Thought I’d Share First” and Other Conspiracy Theory Tweets from the COVID-19 Infodemic: Exploratory Study. JMIR Public Health Surveill 2021;7(4):e26527

URL: https://publichealth.jmir.org/2021/4/e26527

DOI: 10.2196/26527

Funding: Los Alamos Laboratory Directed Research and Development fund and National Laboratory Fees Research

About Los Alamos National Laboratory (www.lanl.gov)

Los Alamos National Laboratory, a multidisciplinary research institution engaged in strategic science on behalf of national security, is managed by Triad, a public service oriented, national security science organization equally owned by its three founding members: Battelle Memorial Institute (Battelle), the Texas A&M University System (TAMUS), and the Regents of the University of California (UC) for the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration.

Los Alamos enhances national security by ensuring the safety and reliability of the U.S. nuclear stockpile, developing technologies to reduce threats from weapons of mass destruction, and solving problems related to energy, environment, infrastructure, health, and global security concerns.
LA-UR-21-23512

 

SEE ORIGINAL STUDY




Filters close

Showing results

110 of 5640
Released: 15-May-2021 8:05 AM EDT
Rutgers Reports First Instance of COVID-19 Triggering Recurrent Blood Clots in Arms
Rutgers University-New Brunswick

Researchers at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School are reporting the first instance of COVID-19 triggering a rare recurrence of potentially serious blood clots in people’s arms.

access_time Embargo lifts in 2 days
Embargo will expire: 20-May-2021 10:00 AM EDT Released to reporters: 14-May-2021 2:40 PM EDT

A reporter's PressPass is required to access this story until the embargo expires on 20-May-2021 10:00 AM EDT The Newswise PressPass gives verified journalists access to embargoed stories. Please log in to complete a presspass application. If you have not yet registered, please Register. When you fill out the registration form, please identify yourself as a reporter in order to advance to the presspass application form.

Released: 14-May-2021 11:25 AM EDT
Access to overdose-reversing drugs declined during pandemic, researchers find
Beth Israel Lahey Health

In a new study, clinician-researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) analyzed naloxone prescription trends during the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States and compared them to trends in opioid prescriptions and to overall prescriptions.

Released: 14-May-2021 11:00 AM EDT
No Excuses: Stop Procrastinating on These Key Health Checks
Michigan Medicine - University of Michigan

A quick guide to the most-valuable preventive care that adults need to get scheduled, to catch up on what they may have missed during the height of the pandemic, and to address issues that the pandemic might have worsened.

Released: 13-May-2021 7:05 PM EDT
FLCCC Statement on the Irregular Actions of Public Health Agencies & the Disinformation Campaign Against Ivermectin
Front Line COVID-19 Critical Care Alliance (FLCCC Alliance)

FLCCC Alliance calls for whistleblower to step forward from within WHO, the FDA, the NIH, Merck, or Unitaid to counter this misrepresentation

Newswise: shutterstock_1724336896.jpg
Released: 13-May-2021 12:55 PM EDT
Kreuter receives $1.9 million in grants to increase vaccinations in St. Louis
Washington University in St. Louis

Matthew Kreuter, the Kahn Family Professor of Public Health at the Brown School, has received $1.9 million in grants to help increase COVID-19 vaccinations among Blacks in St. Louis City and County.

Released: 13-May-2021 11:35 AM EDT
COVID-19 mRNA Vaccines are Immunogenic in Pregnant and Lactating Women, Including Against Viral Variants
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center

In a new study from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center researchers evaluated the immunogenicity of COVID-19 mRNA vaccines in pregnant and lactating women who received either the Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccines. They found that both vaccines triggered immune responses in pregnant and lactating women.

Released: 13-May-2021 10:30 AM EDT
Pandemic stigma: Foreigners, doctors wrongly targeted for COVID-19 spread in India
Monash University

The Indian public blamed foreigners, minority groups and doctors for the rapid spread of COVID-19 across the country during the first wave, due to misinformation, rumour and long-held discriminatory beliefs, according to an international study led by Monash University.


Showing results

110 of 5640

close
1.03792