Beyond “Bots and Trolls” — Understanding Disinformation as Collaborative Work

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Beyond “Bots and Trolls” — Understanding Disinformation as Collaborative Work

Russia’s challenge to the West includes information operations (e.g., disinformation, political propaganda, and other forms of online manipulation) aimed at destabilizing the common ground that democratic societies in Europe and the United States need in order to govern themselves.  Kate Starbird will describe two case studies of online information operations connected to Russia’s media/intelligence apparatus:  interference in the 2016 U.S. election and the campaign against the “White Helmets” in Syria.  She argues that defending against Russian online information operations will require a more nuanced understanding of the problem, in particular, moving beyond focusing on “bots” and “trolls” to looking at the collaborative nature of disinformation campaigns that target, infiltrate, shape, and leverage online communities—communities which may not recognize their role in these campaigns. 


Kate Starbird is an Associate Professor at the Department of Human Centered Design & Engineering (HCDE) at the University of Washington (UW). Starbird’s research is situated within human-computer interaction (HCI) and the emerging field of crisis informatics—the study of the how information-communication technologies (ICTs) are used during crisis events. One aspect of her research focuses on how online rumors spread during natural disasters and man-made crisis events. More recently, she has begun to focus on disinformation and other forms of strategic information operations online. Starbird earned her PhD from the University of Colorado at Boulder in Technology, Media and Society and holds a BS in Computer Science from Stanford University.