Had a lot of fun at the DMI Winter School 2017 last week, where I ended up pitching a sub-project about re-imagining US elections filter bubble through conspiracy theories. All of the different bubble projects were masterfully coordinated by Michael Stevenson, and the results were rather interesting. Following the lead of Shannon Mattern‘s earlier pitch on the need for empathy in conceptualising the Trump filter bubble, we set out to find out the different ways filter bubbles emerge, change and congeal, while trying not to “other” those who reside within them.
Our particular sub project dealt with with the claim I’ve been hearing that Trump has been embraced by the conspiracy theorist crowd. We wanted to see how such claims might be substantiated via Youtube’s recommendation engine and channel structure. While I contribute a bit to the inception of the project, most of the work was done by the other talented team-members, Nikolaus Pöchhacker, Talia Castellanos, Manon van Hoek and Nienke Zoetbrood.
You can read the full project description and findings here, but essentially, our main findings were:
- If you start watching conspiracy videos on Youtube, you have a good chance of ending up with pro-Trump videos in your recommended videos section.
- Trump videos acted twice as ‘recommendation bridges’ between clusters of conspiracy theories (namely, the New World Order cluster and Pokemón Go as CIA tool cluster) and that of the Alex Jones’ Inforwars channel.
- Obama and Hilary Clinton also appear quite frequently, but both are viewed extremely negatively (part of the Illuminati, lizard people etc.)
This makes sense if we recognise that Trump was seen as an outsider and his calls to ‘drain the swamp’. What remains to be seen is whether this keeps after he spends some time in office, or will the conspiracy theorists will see him as being now implicated in the things he vowed to destroy.