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Armchair Detectives and the Social Construction of Falsehoods: Emergent Mob Behavior on the Internet.

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Title:Armchair Detectives and the Social Construction of Falsehoods: Emergent Mob Behavior on the Internet.
Authors:Pantumsinchai, Penn
Contributors:Sociology (department)
Keywords:Mob justice
online communities
internet vigilantism
collective intelligence
social control
show 1 morecollective behavior
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Date Issued:May 2017
Publisher:University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
Abstract:‘Truth’ in today’s society is at the center of several ongoing political debates, particularly with the influx of fake news, smear campaigns, and conspiracy theories. The problem with the ‘truth’ has been further exacerbated by the internet and new media technologies that allow multiple truths and facts to exist and fester, often with real world, offline consequences. My research examines an emergent online phenomenon called ‘mob justice,’ which embodies the problems and consequences of our ‘post-truth’ society. Broadly speaking, mob justice online is an episode of collective behavior attempting to be a force of informal control while spiraling out of control itself. Using two large scale cases – the 2013 Boston bombing and the 2015 Bangkok bombing, I analyze how everyday citizens gathered on social media channels to find the bombers in an ad hoc attempt at social justice. Despite using the power of collective intelligence, both cases failed catastrophically, as the swirl of emotions and murky status of facts and rumors caused the online community to accuse, target, and harass innocent people throughout their armchair investigations. However, my findings demonstrate that the online community is not solely responsible for such witch-hunt antics. The online community’s interactions with institutional players such as the police and mass media influence what is considered to be fact and falsehood online. Using various methods such as content analysis, actor network theory, and social mechanisms, I map out how statements online progress through a network of interactions to eventually reach the precarious status of ‘truth.’ I also construct a failure model of mob justice to understand the step-by-step processes and interactions that incite an episode of mob justice stemming from the failure of collective intelligence. The findings as well as the failure model contribute to the dearth of research on this growing phenomenon, and indicate that a typology of mob justice episodes, successful or otherwise, can be created. The research is significant for its implications regarding the power of collective behavior on the internet, how facts and falsehoods are constructed online, and the ever-changing nature of truth in today’s society.
Description:Ph.D. Thesis. University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa 2017.
Rights:All UHM dissertations and theses are protected by copyright. They may be viewed from this source for any purpose, but reproduction or distribution in any format is prohibited without written permission from the copyright owner.
Appears in Collections: Ph.D. - Sociology

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