Understanding the characteristics of COVID-19 misinformation communities through graphlet analysis

James R. Ashford, Liam D. Turner, Roger M. Whitaker, Alun Preece, Diane Felmlee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Online social networks serve as a convenient way to connect, share, and promote content with others. As a result, these networks can be used with malicious intent, causing disruption and harm to public debate through the sharing of misinformation. However, automatically identifying such content through its use of natural language is a significant challenge compared to our solution which uses less computational resources, language-agnostic and without the need for complex semantic analysis. Consequently alternative and complementary approaches are highly valuable. In this paper, we assess content that has the potential for misinformation and focus on patterns of user association with online social media communities (subreddits) in the popular Reddit social media platform, and generate networks of behaviour capturing user interaction with different subreddits. We examine these networks using both global and local metrics, in particular noting the presence of induced substructures (graphlets) assessing 7,876,064 posts from 96,634 users. From subreddits identified as having potential for misinformation, we note that the associated networks have strongly defined local features relating to node degree — these are evident both from analysis of dominant graphlets and degree-related global metrics. We find that these local features support high accuracy classification of subreddits that are categorised as having the potential for misinformation. Consequently we observe that induced local substructures of high degree are fundamental metrics for subreddit classification, and support automatic detection capabilities for online misinformation independent from any particular language.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number100178
JournalOnline Social Networks and Media
StatePublished - Jan 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Information Systems
  • Communication
  • Computer Networks and Communications


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