New Publication at WebSci'23

1 Feb 2023

New paper on "Analyzing Social Media Activities at Bellingcat" accepted by WebSci'23.

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The new paper by Dominik Bär - PhD candidate and research assistant in our team - and other authors, on the topic of Analyzing Social Media Activities at Bellingcat has been accepted by the ACM Web Science Conference 2023.


Open-source journalism emerged as a new phenomenon in the media ecosystem, which uses crowdsourcing to fact-check and generate investigative reports for world events using open sources (e.g., social media). A particularly prominent example is Bellingcat. Bellingcat is known for its investigations on the illegal use of chemical weapons during the Syrian war, the Russian responsibility for downing flight MH17, the identification of the perpetrators in the attempted murder of Alexei Navalny, and war crimes in the Russo-Ukraine war. Crucial for this is social media in order to disseminate findings and crowdsource fact-checks. In this work, we characterize the social media activities at Bellingcat on Twitter. For this, we built a comprehensive dataset of all N = 24,682 tweets posted by Bellingcat on Twitter since its inception in July 2014. Our analysis is three-fold: (1) We analyze how Bellingcat uses Twitter to disseminate information and collect information from its follower base. Here, we find a steady increase in both posts and replies over time, particularly during the Russo-Ukrainian war, which is in line with the growing importance of Bellingcat for the traditional media ecosystem. (2) We identify characteristics of posts that are successful in eliciting user engagement. User engagement is particularly large for posts embedding additional media items and with a more negative sentiment. (3) We examine how the follower base has responded to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Here, we find that the sentiment has become more polarized and negative. We attribute this to a ∼13-fold increase in bots interacting with the Bellingcat account. Overall, our findings provide recommendations for how open-source journalism such as Bellingcat can successfully operate on social media.