Disinformation as Collaborative Work: Surfacing the Participatory Nature of Strategic Information Operations

Starbird, Kate; Arif, Ahmer; Wilson, Tom
Proceedings of the ACM on Human-Computer Interaction

In this paper, we argue that strategic information operations (e.g. disinformation, political propaganda, and other forms of online manipulation) are a critical concern for CSCW researchers, and that the CSCW community can provide vital insight into understanding how these operations function-by examining them as collaborative “work” within online crowds. First, we provide needed definitions and a framework for conceptualizing strategic information operations, highlighting related literatures and noting historical context. Next, we examine three case studies of online information operations using a sociotechnical lens that draws on CSCW theories and methods to account for the mutual shaping of technology, social structure, and human action. Through this lens, we contribute a more nuanced understanding of these operations (beyond “bots” and “trolls”) and highlight a persistent challenge for researchers, platform designers, and policy makers-distinguishing between orchestrated, explicitly coordinated, information operations and the emergent, organic behaviors of an online crowd.