Artificial Intelligence

On the Origins of Memes by Means of Fringe Web Communities

Thursday, August 22, 2019, 11:00am - 12:00pm PDTiCal
11th floor large conference room
This event is open to the public.
AI Seminar, Recruiting Seminar
Savvas Zannettou, Cyprus University of Technology

:  Internet memes are increasingly used to sway and manipulate public opinion. This prompts the need to study their propagation, evolution, and influence across the Web. In this paper, we detect and measure the propagation of memes across multiple Web communities, using a processing pipeline based on perceptual hashing and clustering techniques, and a dataset of 160M images from 2.6B posts gathered from Twitter, Reddit, 4chan’s Politically Incorrect board (/pol/), and Gab, over the course of 13 months. We group the images posted on fringe Web communities (/pol/, Gab, and The_Donald subreddit) into clusters, annotate them using meme metadata obtained from Know Your Meme, and also map images from mainstream communities (Twitter and Reddit) to the clusters.
Our analysis provides an assessment of the popularity and diversity of memes in the context of each community, showing, e.g., that racist memes are extremely common in fringe Web communities. We also find a substantial number of politics-related memes on both mainstream and fringe Web communities, supporting media reports that memes might be used to enhance or harm politicians. Finally, we use Hawkes processes to model the interplay between Web communities and quantify their reciprocal influence, finding that /pol/ substantially influences the meme ecosystem with the number of memes it produces, while The_Donald has a higher success rate in pushing them to other communities.

Bio: Savvas Zannettou is a PhD candidate from Cyprus University of Technology, co-advised by Dr. Michael Sirivianos and Dr. Jeremy Blackburn. In 2014 and 2016 he received respectively the BSc and MSc degrees in Computer Engineering from Cyprus University of Technology. During 2014, he was a Research Intern at NEC Labs Europe for 6 months where he worked on Software-Defined Networks. During 2017 and 2018, he was a Research Intern at Telefonica Research for 12 months. He is primarily interested in applying large-scale cross-platform quantitative analysis to understand emerging socio-technical issues like the spread of disinformation/misinformation and hateful content across the Web. During his PhD, he received two first-author best paper awards: one at IMC’18 and one at Cybersafety workshop (co-located with WWW).

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