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  1. Free, publicly-accessible full text available March 1, 2025
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  4. While COVID-19 text misinformation has already been investigated by various scholars, fewer research efforts have been devoted to characterizing and understanding COVID-19 misinformation that is carried out through visuals like photographs and memes. In this paper, we present a mixed-method analysis of image-based COVID-19 misinformation in 2020 on Twitter. We deploy a computational pipeline to identify COVID-19 related tweets, download the images contained in them, and group together visually similar images. We then develop a codebook to characterize COVID-19 misinformation and manually label images as misinformation or not. Finally, we perform a quantitative analysis of tweets containing COVID-19 misinformation images. We identify five types of COVID-19 misinformation, from a wrong understanding of the threat severity of COVID-19 to the promotion of fake cures and conspiracy theories. We also find that tweets containing COVID-19 misinformation images do not receive more interactions than baseline tweets with random images posted by the same set of users. As for temporal properties, COVID-19 misinformation images are shared for longer periods of time than non-misinformation ones, as well as have longer burst times. %\ywi added "have'' %\ywFor RQ2, we compare non-misinformation images instead of random images, and so it is not a direct comparison. When looking at the users sharing COVID-19 misinformation images on Twitter from the perspective of their political leanings, we find that pro-Democrat and pro-Republican users share a similar amount of tweets containing misleading or false COVID-19 images. However, the types of images that they share are different: while pro-Democrat users focus on misleading claims about the Trump administration's response to the pandemic, as well as often sharing manipulated images intended as satire, pro-Republican users often promote hydroxychloroquine, an ineffective medicine against COVID-19, as well as conspiracy theories about the origin of the virus. Our analysis sets a basis for better understanding COVID-19 misinformation images on social media and the nuances in effectively moderate them. 
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  5. Previous research has documented the existence of both online echo chambers and hostile intergroup interactions. In this paper, we explore the relationship between these two phenomena by studying the activity of 5.97M Reddit users and 421M comments posted over 13 years. We examine whether users who are more engaged in echo chambers are more hostile when they comment on other communities. We then create a typology of relationships between political communities based on whether their users are toxic to each other, whether echo chamber-like engagement with these communities has a polarizing effect, and on the communities' political leanings. We observe both the echo chamber and hostile intergroup interaction phenomena, but neither holds universally across communities. Contrary to popular belief, we find that polarizing and toxic speech is more dominant between communities on the same, rather than opposing, sides of the political spectrum, especially on the left; however, this mostly points to the collective targeting of political outgroups.

     
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  6. With the growing ubiquity of the Internet and access to media-based social media platforms, the risks associated with media content sharing on social media and the need for safety measures against such risks have grown paramount. At the same time, risk is highly contextualized, especially when it comes to media content youth share privately on social media. In this work, we conducted qualitative content analyses on risky media content flagged by youth participants and research assistants of similar ages to explore contextual dimensions of youth online risks. The contextual risk dimensions were then used to inform semi- and self-supervised state-of-the-art vision transformers to automate the process of identifying risky images shared by youth. We found that vision transformers are capable of learning complex image features for use in automated risk detection and classification. The results of our study serve as a foundation for designing contextualized and youth-centered machine-learning methods for automated online risk detection. 
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  7. We collected Instagram data from 150 adolescents (ages 13-21) that included 15,547 private message conversations of which 326 conversations were flagged as sexually risky by participants. Based on this data, we leveraged a human-centered machine learning approach to create sexual risk detection classifiers for youth social media conversations. Our Convolutional Neural Network (CNN) and Random Forest models outperformed in identifying sexual risks at the conversation-level (AUC=0.88), and CNN outperformed at the message-level (AUC=0.85). We also trained classifiers to detect the severity risk level (i.e., safe, low, medium-high) of a given message with CNN outperforming other models (AUC=0.88). A feature analysis yielded deeper insights into patterns found within sexually safe versus unsafe conversations. We found that contextual features (e.g., age, gender, and relationship type) and Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC) contributed the most for accurately detecting sexual conversations that made youth feel uncomfortable or unsafe. Our analysis provides insights into the important factors and contextual features that enhance automated detection of sexual risks within youths' private conversations. As such, we make valuable contributions to the computational risk detection and adolescent online safety literature through our human-centered approach of collecting and ground truth coding private social media conversations of youth for the purpose of risk classification. 
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