Computer Science

Document Type

Conference Proceeding

Publication Date



In 2010, a paper entitled “From Obscurity to Prominence in Minutes: Political Speech and Real-time search” [7] won the Best Paper Prize of the WebSci’10 conference. Among its findings were the discovery and documentation of what was labeled a “Twitter bomb”, an organized effort to spread misinformation about the democratic candidate Martha Coakley through anonymous Twitter accounts. In this paper, after summarizing the details of that event, we outline the recipe of how social networks are used to spread misinformation. One of the most important steps in such a recipe is the “infiltration” of a community of users who are already engaged in conversations about a topic, to use them as organic spreaders of misinformation in their extended subnetworks. Then, we take this misinformation spreading recipe and indicate how it was successfully used to spread fake news during the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election. The main differences between the scenarios are the use of Facebook instead of Twitter, and the respective motivations (in 2010: political influence; in 2016: financial benefit through online advertising). After situating these events in the broader context of exploiting the Web, we seize this opportunity to address limitations of the reach of research findings and to start a conversation about how communities of researchers can increase their impact on real-world societal issues.

[7] Panagiotis T. Metaxas and Eni Mustafaraj. From Obscurity to Prominence in Minutes: Political Speech and Real-Time Search. In Proc. of the WebSci’10 Conference.