The project takes a look at the dynamics of fandoms online and how their far-reaching networks are both capable of fighting disinformation and vulnerable to exploitation.
The project was the first to map out the dynamics of local fandoms online, and how fast and wide information cascades through their networks. The story visualizations also went viral, encouraging people to speak up to defend institutions and universal values against sophisticated disinformation and propaganda machines.
Rappler used a mix of proprietary and third-party social listening tools to gather data, including Facebook’s Crowdtangle. Network analysis was also used on both Facebook and Twitter data, with help from a tech partner.
What was the hardest part of this project?
Monitoring and mapping information cascades online requires a lot of technical skills, which journalists don’t always have at their disposal. What makes disinformation research even more challenging for journalists is that these stories have to be written as fast as possible for the story to stay relevant and have actual impact. For this project, the writer had to monitor and collect the data on fandoms’ online campaigns as they happened, then process, visualize, and analyze as fast as possible.
What can others learn from this project?
The project highlighted how online fandoms can have the same, if not bigger, scale and connectedness as online propaganda networks, making them ideal channels for information cascade online. While most fandoms isolate themselves from conversations outside their interest, there have been several instances when they step into the realm of politics, and with sheer volume, dominate the conversation. These, however, also make them effective channels for disinformation and vulnerable to exploitation.