Leveraging A Geography of Virtual Conspiracy

Authors: Micah Hilt*, , Elvin Wyly*, University of British Columbia
Topics: Quantitative Methods, Human-Environment Geography, Cyberinfrastructure
Keywords: geography, mapping, online, virtual, conspiracy, politics
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/7/2021
Start / End Time: 9:35 AM / 10:50 AM
Room: Virtual 32
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

In March 2020 the Director of the United States National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Anthony Fauci famously facepalmed during a televised meeting with Donald Trump. In 2015 Bill Gates gave a TED Talk called "The Next Outbreak? We’re Not Ready." Since then, in an era of COVID-19, these two unconnected events have gone viral. They are unrelated yet connected events in the spread of the internet theory that COVID is indeed a vast conspiracy. In this work we posit a set of complex conspiratorial dynamics to map and explore the interrelated material and cognitive urban connections of online communications ecosystems. Our method relies on a simple synthesis of urban geography's classical urban-systems rank-size hierarchies as applied to the open-source data-mining tools made available by the Media Studies Initiative at the University of Amsterdam; mining YouTube's application programming interface allows us to track how old currents of whispered gossip in the material streets and landscapes of America's settlement system have evolved into messy, chaotic online algorithmic hierarchies of discourse, correlation, and conspiracy. We do this to ask a simple yet challenging question: Do the patterns revealed by this mapping enterprise reveal any progressive leverage points, through which progressive narratives can emerge stronger than the conspiratorial pathways exploited by the right-wing algorithmic assemblages that have taken hold in American political culture?

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