It has been difficult to address the impact and targeting of online foreign influence operations, because researchers rarely have insight into the demographic characteristics of users who interact with content on large social media platforms. To address this gap, we combine insights from an anonymized estimated demographic dataset of Facebook data and a deeply-researched dataset of user interactions from Twitter. We use as a case study the well-characterized influence operation revolving around the Syria Civil Defence, also known as White Helmets, to understand how different audiences in the United States interact with “ecosystems'' of mainstream and alternative web domains according to age, gender, and Facebook’s political affinity score. We reflect on the unusual left-leaning tilt of alternative, conspiracy-oriented web domains in our dataset in light of the historical context of United States military interventions. We also discuss the ethical considerations of using an anonymized demographic dataset provided by a private company.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Copyright (c) 2022 Journal of Online Trust and Safety