ODYCCEUS Online Conference - The Computational Analysis of Cultural Conflict

Abstracts for the talks

Sven Banisch
Max Planck Institute for Mathematics in the Sciences, Germany
Time: Tuesday, June 08, 2021, 10:00

Social Feedback Theory: Modeling collective opinion phenomena by learning from the feedback of others
Humans are sensitive to social approval and disapproval. The feedback that others provide on our expressions of opinion is an important driver for adaptation and change. Social feedback theory provides a framework for modeling collective opinion processes based on these principles. The theory departs from previous models by differentiating an externally expressed opinion from an internal evaluation of it. Opinion dynamics is conceived as repeated games that agents play within their social network and to which they adapt by reward-based learning. Within this setting, game theoretic notions of equilibrium can be used to characterize structural conditions for qualitatively different regimes of collective opinion expression. In this talk, I aim for a broad perspective and discuss two models addressing emergent phenomena such as polarization and collective silence.

Julia Ebner
University of Oxford, United Kingdom
Andreas Jungherr (Universität Bamberg, Germany), Philipp Lorenz-Spreen (Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Germany)
Time: Wednesday, June 09, 2021, 20:00

Social Media: Democratization or Radicalization Engine?
Over the last decades, the media image of the internet has undergone a shift. In the beginning, high hopes were held up for its democratic potential and it was believed to foster transparency and participation. These expectations however have been increasingly clouded by concerns, and the internet is today often portrayed as the origin of societal threats like radicalization, misinformation and political manipulation. By developing methods to study political discourse online, the ODYCCEUS project operated in the tension between these poles.
In this event, we want to reflect on our role and the role of science in general in recovering the internet’s democratic potential. Join us when we discuss this question with Julia Ebner, expert on online extremism and radicalization, Andreas Jungherr, political scientist studying the impact of digital media on politics and society and Philipp Lorenz-Spreen who focuses on the behavioral and cognitive dimensions of online behavior.

Felix Gaisbauer
Max Planck Institute for Mathematics in the Sciences, Germany
Time: Tuesday, June 08, 2021, 15:00

Public Debate on Twitter: Counterpublics and Ideological Differences
We analyse public debate on Twitter via network representations of retweets and replies. Through the interplay of the two networks, it is possible to identify asymmetries in activity between different groups on the platform. The method is employed to observe public debate about two events: The Saxon state elections and violent riots in the city of Leipzig in 2019. We show that in both cases, (i) different opinion groups exhibit different propensities to get involved in debate, and therefore have unequal impact on public opinion. Users retweeting far-right parties and politicians are significantly more active, hence their positions are disproportionately visible. (ii) Said users act significantly more confrontational in the sense that they reply mostly to users from different groups, while the contrary is not the case.
Moreover, we show preliminary results of a dynamical extension of the method. There, the dynamic development of opinion groups and engagement in reply sections with respect to the Covid-19 pandemic in Germany is investigated.

Romain Leconte
Université de Paris, France
Etienne Toureille and Claude Grasland (Université de Paris, France), joined work with Marta Severo (Université de Paris Nanterre, France)
Time: Tuesday, June 08, 2021, 14:00

A Multidimensional Analysis of Geopolitical Agenda. Border and Migrant Crisis in the Western European Press (2014 - 2018)
This talk proposes a geopolitical analysis of opinion dynamics through an interface built for statistical exploration of a press dataset covering a five-year period of publications (2014-2019).
Based on two case studies about international migrations and political borders, the aim is to question the ”crisis” status of changes in the media coverage of twenty daily western European newspapers. If time is sufficient, the talk will also present the interface designed for exploratory statistical analysis through visualization.

Simon Levis Sullam
Università Ca' Foscari, Italy
(joint work with Giorgia Minello, Rocco Tripodi)
Time: Monday, June 07, 2021, 14:00

Tracing Discourse on Jews in the French Long 19th Century: a Distant Reading.
We explore through the lens of distant reading the evolution of discourse on Jews in France during the XIX century. We analyze a large textual corpus including heterogeneous sources – literary works, periodicals, songs, essays, historical narratives – to trace how Jews are associated to different semantic domains, and how such associations shift over time. Our analysis deals with three key aspects of such changes: the overall transformation of embedding spaces, the trajectories of word associations, and the comparative projection of different religious groups over different, historically relevant semantic dimensions or streams of discourse. This allows to trace moments of major semantic change, the evolution of stereotypes, and the dynamics of bias over a long time span during which dramatic institutional, political, economic and cultural changes unfolded.
We suggest that the analysis of large textual corpora can be fruitfully used in a dialogue with more traditional close reading approaches – by pointing to opportunities of in-depth analyses that mobilize more qualitative approaches and a detailed inspection of the sources that distant reading inevitably tends to aggregate. We offer a short example of such a dialogue between different approaches in our discussion of the Second Empire transformations, where we mobilize the historian’s tools to start disentangling the complex interactions between changes in French society, the nature of sources, and representations of Jews. While our example is limited in scope, we foresee large potential payoffs in the cooperative interaction between distant and close reading.

Philipp Lorenz-Spreen
Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Germany
Time: Wednesday, June 09, 2021, 15:00

Behavioural science to empower truth and democratic discourse online
Public opinion is shaped in significant part by online content, the sources of which may be journalistic, but also lay, and which can spread rapidly through social media and are algorithmically curated (often non-transparent). This new and constantly evolving information ecosystem is designed by platform providers primarily to attract the attention of users, not to promote deliberate cognition and autonomous choice; information overload, finely tuned personalization and distorted social cues, in turn, pave the way for manipulation and the spread of false information. Third-party fact-checking is currently used to remedy some of these outcomes symptomatically, but due to its risk of censorship or allegations thereof, it is potentially prone to undermine trust. Here, we address the question for an alternative solution: How can online environments provide context and promote autonomy, so as to empower individuals to make informed decisions themselves? This approach potentially avoids external judgements about content, but requires the design of an environment, that allows people to become their own fact-checkers. To achieve this goal, effective web governance informed by behavioural research is critically needed. In this talk I will connect two approaches and show how the insights from computational social science on the macro-scale can be translated into practical interventions informed by the psychology of decision making on the micro-scale. More specifically, we identify technologically available yet largely untapped cues that can be harnessed to indicate the epistemic quality of online content, the factors underlying algorithmic decisions and the degree of consensus in online debates. We then map out two classes of behavioural interventions—nudging and boosting— that enlist these cues to redesign online environments for informed and autonomous choice and have the potential to collectively scale up to an improved discourse online.

Eckehard Olbrich
Max Planck Institute for Mathematics in the Sciences, Germany
Time: Monday, June 07, 2021, 11:15

Political Spaces as Conceptual Spaces
The idea of a political space is intricately connected to the ubiquitous use of spatial metaphors when talking about politics. In particular the idea of a “distance” between “political positions” would suggest that politics could be situated in a metric space.
Using the electoral manifestos from the Manifesto project database we investigate to which extent the spatial metaphors so common in political talk can be brought to mathematical rigor and to which extent they can be considered as conceptual spaces in the sense of Gärdenfors.
In the manifesto data set each document is split into quasi-sentences that are assigned to one 56 categories. Each manifesto can be represented by a 56-dimensional vector of counts. These counts are not uncorrelated and therefore a set of manifestos can be approximately represented in a low dimensional space which is an example of a “political space”. We compare these political spaces withsimilar spaces based on topic modeling. There each party program is represented by a vector of topic probabilities, but in contrast to the manifesto categories these topics are learned fully unsupervised and thus more flexible than pre-defined categories.
When comparing different elections parties do not only change their positions in these political spaces, but one can also argue, that the meaning of the dimensions that span these spaces, change. We explore this "reconfiguration of the political space" in the context of the recent rise of populist parties, for instance in Germany.

Stijn Peeters
University of Amsterdam, Netherlands
(joint work with Marc Tuters, Tom Willaert (Vrije Universiteit Brussel), Daniel de Zeeuw, and Sal Hagen)
Time: Monday, June 07, 2021, 15:00

On the Vernacular Language Games of an Antagonistic Online Subculture
In this talk we develop an empirical, big data approach to analyze how alt-right vernacular concepts (such as kek and beta) are used on the notorious anonymous and ephemeral imageboard 4chan /pol/ and the fan wiki Encyclopedia Dramatica. Contrary to “memetic” theories of cultural evolution in media studies, our analysis draws on theoretical frameworks from poststructuralist and pragmatist philosophies of language and deploys empirical techniques from corpus linguistics to consider the role of online platforms in shaping these vernacular modes of expression. This approach helps us to identify instances of vernacular innovation within these corpora from 2012-2020—a period during which the white supremacist “alt-right” movement arose online. Through these analyses we contribute both to ongoing interdisciplinary attempts to bridge the gap between cultural-theoretical and computational-linguistic approaches to studying online subcultures, and to the empirical study of the vernacular roots of the “toxic memes” that appear to be an increasingly common feature on social media.

Pedro Ramaciotti Morales
SciencesPo, Paris, France
Time: Wednesday, June 09, 2021, 10:00

Embedding Informational Ecosystems in Ideological Spaces and Tracking Group Dynamics
Recent years have seen numerous efforts to use the structure of social networks (to the exclusion of textual content) to infer ideological positions of users. In this work, we use ideological inference from topological data to estimate and track the ideology of collectives. Representing heterogeneous informational ecosystems at nation-wide scale as Knowledge Graph data, we use ideological positions inferred on social networks and project them to other parts of these ecosystems. This methodology allows us to embed different web entities, such as websites of news outlets or specific media content, in ideological spaces where dimensions stand for issues of public debate, and positions signal favorable or opposed attitudes. In particular, these projection operations allow us to embed web entities representing collectives, such as Facebook groups associated with social movements. We show that tracking the trajectories of social movements on ideological spaces is a valuable tool to characterize the evolution of their ideological and attitudinal stances.

Richard Rogers
University of Amsterdam, Netherlands
(joint work with Armin Pournaki (MPI MiS))
Time: Monday, June 07, 2021, 16:00

Where is the urgency in the climate change discourse?
Beginning in 2018, Greta Thunberg, the youthful climate change activist, has become a symbolic leader of a new movement that repeatedly has called on global leaders to ‘face the climate emergency’.The following considers the question of the reverberations of their recent actions and those of others (including Extinction Rebellion and the flight shame or flygskam movement) by inquiring into the extent to which the climate change discourse over the past few years on Twitter has become generally suffused with urgency. We employ network analysis techniques that detect distinctive spheres or communities of users in the discourse, and subsequently linguistic analyses that detect expressions of urgency within them. We also consider the question of urgency talk as alarmism or eco-doom. In all, we found in the leading discourses the language of ‘action’ and even ‘crisis’ have appeared among the more pronounced, whilst alarmism only appears in the deniers' community. That is, we report a recent uptick in urgency talk without associated alarmism.

Marcel Sarközi
Leipzig University, Germany
Time: Tuesday, June 08, 2021, 11:00

The Effects of Social Feedback on Private Opinions. Empirical Evidence from the Laboratory
How and why do people change their opinions in social settings? This question has been of interest since Solomon Asch (1951, 1955) established how easily social influence can push individuals to change their publicly expressed opinion into the direction of the perceived majority opinion, even if this opinion is obviously flawed. Yet, publicly expressed opinions that are due to compliance with surrounding others are prone to vary with the situational circumstances. In Asch's conformity experiments in fact vastly different motivations on the individual level resulted in the same type of observed behavioral outcome, namely adaptation. In these cases it remains unclear whether opinion changes occur only on a superficial level of adjusting public utterances in order to meet group expectations (public conformity) or whether private opinions, i.e. the ones that individuals actually hold, are subject to change as well (private acceptance). This question is of increasing relevance nowadays as the ever-growing connectivity between people via internet occurs simultaneously with them embracing more and more opposing standpoints. In order to explain the persistence of opinion divergence, a number of opinion exchange models and social influence mechanisms have been suggested. One of the most recent introduces a reinforcement learning mechanism that is based on social feedback (Banisch and Olbrich 2019). The basic idea is that within a reward-driven process, individuals not only re-evaluate the opinions they have expressed and learn which opinions are safe to express in their neighborhood, but also internalize the expected opinion and integrate it with their existing values until it becomes independent of the external source.
We present two laboratory experiments in which we investigated whether or not social feedback yields any relevant effect on actual private opinions and, moreover, if any potentially resulting change corresponds to whether the social feedback was supportive or rejective in its nature. The empirical evidence obtained during the original as well as the replication study ultimately suggests that the mixture of positive and negative social feedback statements in particular had a lasting impact on the private opinion under study. Recipients tended to change their opinion to the presumably more socially accepted opinion. Our results thus demonstrate that social feedback causes adjustment in privately held opinions even under anonymous and sanction free conditions.

Petter Törnberg
University of Amsterdam, Netherlands
(joint work with Justus Uitermark)
Time: Wednesday, June 09, 2021, 16:00

Impacts of New Social Media
In this presentation, we will take stock and draw together our work during the project on how new digital media have reshaped political and cultural life. On one side, we identify social media as driving integration, conformity, and aesthetics, and on the other, we find it implicated in shifts in commodification, personhood, and polarization. We draw on several studies – empirical, theoretical and simulation-based – to tell the larger story on how digital media is transforming society, and look ahead toward future possible research.

Livia van Vliet
University of Amsterdam, Netherlands
Time: Wednesday, June 09, 2021, 11:00

The Moral Messages of Brexit: Analysis of Politician Tweets Following the Referendum Vote of 2016
Ideas about morality are deeply entrenched into political opinions. This presentation uncovers how British parliamentarians use moral foundations to discuss the Brexit withdrawal agreement on Twitter, using parliamentarian Tweets from May 2017 - December 2019, following the 2016 referendum that resulted in Britain's exit (Brexit) from the European Union. Moral Foundations Theory is used to classify tweets with underlying moral arguments using LIWC. It is found that the majority of Brexit related tweets contain elements of moral reasoning. There are common underlying foundations between parties, but parties express opposing viewpoints within a single foundation. The presentation provides useful insights into Twitter's use as an arena for moral argumentation (in 280 characters or less), as well as discusses the politician's uses of moral arguments during Brexit agreement negotiations on Twitter.

Massimo Warglien
Università Ca' Foscari, Italy
Time: Monday, June 07, 2021, 10:15

Games and Conceptual Spaces
How do culturally shared conceptual structures affect patterns of conflict and collaboration? How does communication affect the resolution of discording frames? How is conceptual structures evolution driven by interaction? What are the options and perils of leadership to drive change in conceptual representations?
In this talk I will summarize some of the Odycceus project results on game theory and agents’ conceptual representations, and their implications for the understanding of culture, conflict and change.

Tom Willaert
Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium
Time: Wednesday, June 09, 2021, 14:00

An Opinion Facilitator for Online News Media
With more and more voices and opinions entering the public domain, a key challenge facing journalists and editors is maximizing the context of the information that is presented on news websites. In this presentation, we argue that systems for exposing readers to the many aspects of societal debates should be grounded in methods and tools that can provide a fine-grained understanding of these debates. The present talk thereby explores the conceptual transition from opinion observation to opinion facilitation by introducing and discussing the Penelope opinion facilitator: a proof-of-concept reading instrument for online news media that operationalizes emerging methods for the computational analysis of cultural conflict developed in the context of the H2020 ODYCCEUS project. It will be demonstrated how these methods can be combined into an instrument that complements the reading experience of the news website The Guardian by automatically interlinking news articles on the level of semantic frames. In linguistic theory, semantic frames are defined as coherent structures of related concepts. We thereby zoom in on instances of the ‘causation’ frame, such as ‘climate change causes global warming’, and illustrate how a reading instrument that links articles based on such frames might reconfigure our readings of climate news coverage, with specific attention to the case of global warming controversies. Finally, we relate our findings to the context of the development of computational social science, and discuss pathways for the evaluation of the instrument, as well as for the future upscaling of qualitative analyses and close readings.


Date and Location

June 07 - 09, 2021
Max Planck Institute for Mathematics in the Sciences
Virtual event - Videobroadcast

Scientific Organizer

Eckehard Olbrich
MPI for Mathematics in the Sciences

Local Organization

Felix Gaisbauer
MPI for Mathematics in the Sciences

Administrative Contact

Antje Vandenberg
MPI for Mathematics in the Sciences
Contact by Email

12.06.2021, 01:27