Online Rumors, Misinformation and Disinformation: The Perfect Storm of COVID-19 and Election2020

Note: Presentation times are in Pacific Standard Time (PST).

Wednesday, February 03, 2021 - 10:50 am11:20 am

Kate Starbird, University of Washington


The past year has been a difficult one. A pandemic has taken millions of lives and disrupted "normal" routines across the globe. In the United States, we have experienced an unprecedented political situation with a sitting President refusing to concede after losing an election. Each of the events has been accompanied by uncertainty and anxiety, as well as massive amounts of false and misleading information. In this talk, I will explore some of the mechanics of online misinformation, explaining why we are particularly vulnerable right now—due in part to the nature of these crises, and in part to the current structure of our information systems. Using examples from both COVID-19 and Election2020, I will explain how we are living through a "perfect storm" for both misinformation and disinformation. And I will describe how disinformation, in particular, can be an existential threat to democratic societies. After laying out the problems, I aim to end on a more hopeful note, with a call to action for researchers and industry professionals to help "chip away" at this critical societal issue.

Kate Starbird, University of Washington

Kate Starbird is an Associate Professor at the Department of Human-Centered Design & Engineering (HCDE) at the University of Washington (UW). Dr. Starbird's research sits in the emerging field of crisis informatics—the study of how social media and other communication technologies are used during crisis events. Currently, her work focuses on the production and spread of online rumors, misinformation, and disinformation in the context of crises and other disruptive events. Starbird is a co-founder of the UW Center for an Informed Public.

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@conference {264144,
author = {Kate Starbird},
title = {Online Rumors, Misinformation and Disinformation: The Perfect Storm of {COVID-19} and Election2020},
year = {2021},
publisher = {USENIX Association},
month = feb

Presentation Video