Earlier this week I completed a run of almost-biweekly conference talks that let me debut some new research projects that began last year. Since the talks were all online, I was able to save a ton of money on airfare and lodging. I also got to pre-record some of my talks, which means I can now share them here as well.1
First up was Society for the Social Studies of Science (4S), where I got to debut a new method for examining the information practices of online conspiracy theorists. Basically, there is a lot of research about how wrong conspiracy narratives are, but surprisingly little research about just how people construct and maintain those narratives.
I used my 4S paper as an opportunity to look into the early-internet “Ong’s Hat” narrative, which posits that the New Jersey Pine Barrens were once host to a drug-fueled cult led by renegade Princeton scientists who figured out the secret to inter-dimensional travel. This particular conspiracy community was particularly influential insofar as it helped to pioneer Alternate Reality Gaming, which is now seen as a key source of the particular information-sharing mechanics used by QAnon.
As it turns out, one of the key findings for me was that these online conspiracists are not just trafficking in blatant falsehoods (although those exist as well). More interestingly to me, they also have idiosyncratic ways of using authentic sources to create new narratives. I argue that any “disinformation” scholars who fixate on the fictional elements, while ignoring the truthful ones, do themselves a great disservice. you can watch the video here, via YouTube (unlisted— please don’t circulate the link too widely).
More recently, I also presented at the Association for Information Science & Technology (ASIS&T), discussing a software package and methodology for reconstructing disinformation’s spread, which I recently developed with Mitch Chaiet and Praful Gupta. I already wrote about this one on SubStack (read it here), so I won’t belabor the description too much today. I’ll just link to the video, and note that these two projects go together in a stream of research that I’ve recently cooked up using techniques from Information Science to study online mis- and dis-information. Since my dissertation research already touched on digital computing’s roots in “fringe” communities like the psychedelic counterculture, this is a natural extension my existing work.
There are a few other related projects that I’ve either recently finished or intend to finish soon, which you’ll probably hear more about in the future.
The third and final presentation that I want to plug was delivered at the Society for the History of Technology’s Special Interest Group for Computers, Information, and Society (SHOT-SIGCIS). This was an incredible panel featuring some scholars and practitioners of software preservation whose work I really admire. We were talking about emulation, and it gave me a chance to synthesize findings from several papers that I published over recent years as part of my dissertation research.
The fall 2021 season has been jam-packed with conferences, and although they’ve been great fun, I’m also glad that they’re over. I have too many new and ongoing projects that need attention, and I can’t wait to get them ready to share in the next few months. In the meantime, please consider sharing, citing, or assigning my work to your friends/family/students. And if you have some related work that you think I might want to read/share/cite/assign, please get in touch!
Note: I posted to Twitter a few weeks ago asking what rules, if any, might exist in terms of sharing conference talk videos after the fact. Nobody answered. Maybe this means that it’s a bold new frontier and nobody has answers yet. Maybe nobody cares. Or maybe nobody saw the post because I’ve been shadowbanned and am therefore a valiant truth-telling free speech warrior. If that’s the case, I expect a check in the mail from some shadowy dark money billionaire any day now.
Either way, I’m a little squeamish about intellectual property at the moment because I recently got a strongly-worded email from ResearchGate telling me that one of my articles was flagged for copyright violations and had been removed. Nevertheless, I feel incentivized to share my work as widely as possible, since we scholars basically live and die by research metrics.
So if you work with any of the organizations who ran these conferences, and you’d like me to take the videos down, please just drop me a line! I will be happy to oblige! Otherwise, enjoy.