- Economic risk framing increases intention to vaccinate among Republican COVID-19 vaccine refusersWei Zhong, and David A. BroniatowskiSocial Science & Medicine, 2023
Objective To determine if framing communications about COVID-19 vaccines in economic terms can increase Republicans’ likelihood to get vaccinated. Methods We examined Twitter posts between January 2020 and September 2021 by Democratic and Republican politicians to determine how they framed the COVID-19 pandemic. Based on these posts, we carried out a survey study between September and November 2021 to examine whether motivations for COVID-19 vaccine uptake matched message frames that were widely used by these politicians. Finally, we conducted a randomized controlled experiment to examine how these frames (economic vs. health) affected intentions to vaccinate by vaccine refusers in both parties. Results Republican politicians were more likely to frame the pandemic in economic terms, whereas Democrats predominantly used health frames. Accordingly, vaccinated Republicans’ choices were more likely to be motivated by economic consideration (β = 0.25, p = 0.02) and personal financial rationales (β = 0.24, p = 0.03). Among vaccine refusers, Republicans exposed to messages using economic rationales to encourage vaccination reported higher vaccination intentions compared to those exposed to messages using public health rationales (F1,119 = 4.16, p = 0.04). Conclusion Messages highlighting economic and personal financial risks could increase intentions to vaccinate for vaccine-hesitant Republicans. Public health implications Agencies should invest in developing messages that are congruent with frames that are already widely used by co-partisans. Social media may be helpful in eliciting these frames.
- Keep Your Heads Held High Boys!: Examining the Relationship between the Proud Boys’ Online Discourse and Offline ActivitiesCatie Bailard, Rebekah Tromble, Wei Zhong, and 3 more authorsAmerican Political Science Review, 2023Forthcoming
How does online communication by right-wing extremist groups relate to their offline behavior? In this paper, we analyze the relationship between the online communication of one prominent right-wing extremist group—the Proud Boys—and their offline activities using the long-standing and well-developed collective action framing literature as the theoretical lens driving our approach. To investigate this correlation, we utilize cutting-edge computational techniques to analyze an extensive and novel data set of Telegram activity by the Proud Boys, which we merge with U.S. Crisis Monitor data of violent and non-violent events that members of this group participated in over a 31-month period. Our findings demonstrate that the platforms provided by social media to mobilize members of extremist groups aren’t as simple as forums for calls-to-action or discussions of logistics and planning. Rather, online discussions between members of this extremist group that feature intensifying expressions of grievances and/or motivational appeals to group pride, duty, or solidarity share a reciprocal relationship with participation in offline events.
- Proud Boys on TelegramWei Zhong, Catie Bailard, David Broniatowski, and 1 more authorJournal of Quantitative Description: Digital Media , 2024
Utilizing an original data set of public Telegram channels affiliated with a right-wing extremist group, the Proud Boys, we conduct an exploratory analysis of the structure and nature of the group’s presence on the platform. Our study considers the group’s growth, organizational structure, connectedness with other far-right and/or fringe factions, and the range of topics discussed on this alternative social media platform. The findings show that the Proud Boys have a notable presence on Telegram, with a discernable spike in activity coinciding with Facebook’s and Instagram’s 2018 deplatforming of associated pages and profiles with this and other extremist groups. Another sharp increase in activity is then precipitated by the attack on the U.S. Capitol Building on January 6, 2021. By February 2022, we identified 92 public Telegram channels explicitly affiliated with the Proud Boys, which constitute the core of a well-connected network with 131,953 subscribers. These channels, primarily from the United States, also include international presences in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the UK, and Germany. Our data reveals substantial interaction between the Proud Boys and other fringe and/or far-right communities on Telegram, including MAGA Trumpists, QAnon, COVID-19-related misinformation, and white-supremacist communities. Content analyses of this network highlights several prominent and recurring themes, including opposition to feminism and liberals, skepticism toward official information sources, and propagation of various conspiracy beliefs. This study offers the first systematic examination of the Proud Boys on Telegram, illuminating how a far-right extremist group leverages the latitude afforded by a relatively unregulated alternative social media platform.
- Twitter’s COVID Misinformation Removal Policy Was Not Associated With A Relative Reduction in Misinformative AccountsWei Zhong, David Broniatowski, Mark Dredze, and 1 more authorWork in Progress
Did Twitter’s COVID-19 misinformation removal interventions during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic (March 1, 2021) successfully reduce misinformative content and users? To answer this question, we collected over 400M English-language tweets related to COVID-19 using over 100 relevant keywords between February 6, 2020 and December 15, 2022. Focusing on our sample’s top 20% most prolific accounts (N = 40,835), we extracted and labeled each Twitter account and their posts’ mis-informativeness, based on third-party lists of low-credibility news sources. We used a comparative interrupted time series design, comparing more misinformative with less misinformative accounts’ content, and comparing more informative posts with less misinformative posts regardless of accounts’ type. We found that none of these series experienced an immediate drop after the policy intervention on March 1, 2021. Instead, the decrease started in early 2022. More importantly, Twitter’s interventions were not associated with a statistically significant decrease in more misinformative accounts’ content relative to less misinformative accounts’ content. Similarly, we didn’t detect a statistically significant reduction in more misinformative posts compared to less misinformative posts. Taken together, Twitter’s policies removing COVID and vaccine misinformation were not associated with a statistically significant relative reduction in misinformative posts and accounts’ content. These results call into question the ability of large social media companies, such as Twitter, to control the spread of misinformation on their platforms via content and account deletion during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Diverging Paths: The Evolution of Partisan Evaluation Criteria from 1984-2020Wei Zhong, Maggie Zhang, Simin Chen, and 1 more authorWork in Progress
This study sheds new light on an aspect of American presidential elections that has not been extensively explored: the fragmentation patterns in voters’ evaluation criteria for presidential candidates. By analyzing open-ended responses from the American National Election Studies (1984-2020) and employing a specially trained BERT model, we identify various dimensions of evaluative criteria. This enables us to explore the diversity in citizens’ evaluative criteria towards candidates, congruence in voters’ criteria preferences, and the consistency in criteria application across candidates from different political parties. Our findings reveal a significant shift in the criteria voters use to judge Republican and Democratic presidential candidates. There is a noticeable downward trend in the diversity of criteria employed by voters over time for evaluating candidates. Additionally, we observe an increasing divergence in chosen criteria among individual voters, indicative of a growing fragmentation in the evaluation process. We also find a trend towards the use of less consistent criteria in assessing candidates from the major parties. This pattern, reflecting a shift towards greater individualization and complexity in voter decision-making, presents challenges for achieving consensus and could potentially reduce the effectiveness of democratic governance.
- Subdued But Unbroken: Examining Supporter Interactions and Group Cohesion after Twitter’s Suspension of Proud Boys AccountsWei Zhong, and Maggie ZhangWork in Progress
On August 10, 2018, Twitter deplatformed the far-right group “Proud Boys” and related accounts. Despite the growing use of deplatforming, research on its impact, especially on followers of such groups, is limited. Our study aims to address this gap. Far-right organizations can influence supporters in ways individual influencers can’t, such as fostering a sense of belonging and resilience to deplatforming. We focused on the evolution of group cohesion post-deplatforming, examining content co-sharing patterns and interaction networks within the group. We also investigated changes in supporters’ behavior, such as toxicity and misinformation, post-deplatforming. Analyzing over 12 million tweets from more than 9,000 Proud Boys’ supporters from August 2017 to September 2019, we found that co-sharing of hashtags and URLs remained stable, suggesting that deplatforming did not impact information sharing, maintaining group content cohesion. Meanwhile, we did not observe significant changes in both inter-group and intra-group interactions, indicating that deplatforming did not disrupt the group’s engagement cohesion. Moreover, supporters’ levels of toxicity and misinformation did not significantly decrease. Our research extends the study of online extremism by exploring the resilience of Proud Boys’ supporters post-deplatforming. Despite the removal of extremist leaders, the group’s communication remained robust, suggesting deplatforming may not always effectively extremist such groups.
- Economic risk framing increases intention to vaccinate among Republican COVID-19 vaccine refusersSocial Science & Medicine, 2023
- Keep Your Heads Held High Boys!: Examining the Relationship between the Proud Boys’ Online Discourse and Offline ActivitiesAmerican Political Science Review, 2023Forthcoming
- Proud Boys on TelegramJournal of Quantitative Description: Digital Media , 2024
- Twitter’s COVID Misinformation Removal Policy Was Not Associated With A Relative Reduction in Misinformative AccountsWork in Progress
- Diverging Paths: The Evolution of Partisan Evaluation Criteria from 1984-2020Work in Progress
- Subdued But Unbroken: Examining Supporter Interactions and Group Cohesion after Twitter’s Suspension of Proud Boys AccountsWork in Progress