Church Life Today

Social Media as a Conduit for Conflict, with Tim Weninger

November 06, 2023 OSV Podcasts
Church Life Today
Social Media as a Conduit for Conflict, with Tim Weninger
Show Notes

Many of us browsing social media have had the experience of seeing horrendous images and videos from armed conflicts. Sometimes those dehumanizing acts are featured widely even before conflict fully breaks out. Seeing these things gives us a sense of rage or sorrow or concern or all of the above. It is not uncommon for our sympathies to be swayed by the suffering that we see, or the dehumanizing acts that are brought before us .Actually, that is often the point of showing these scenes and images in the first place.

Computer science research shows that in the lead-up to hostilities, as well as after the outbreak of hostilities, there is a notable increase in dehumanizing political imagery that is often doctored or accentuated in some way and then reshared in digital space to evoke an emotional response. As media consumers, we may find ourselves swimming in a sea of images, not knowing what or whom we can trust. Or some of us might even focus in on the kinds of images and narratives that confirm our predetermined biases, and wed us more closely to our preferred group or tribe.

My guest on the show today is a computer scientist whose research reveals how social media is regularly used as a conduit for conflict. Tim Weninger is the Frank M. Freimann Associate Professor of Engineering at the University of Notre Dame, where he also serves as the Director of Graduate Studies for Computer Science and Engineering. His research is in artificial intelligence, machine learning, and social media (and artificial intelligence on social media). Recently, Professor Weninger and his team have been studying how coordinated social media campaigns have been used to incite violence and discord, destabilize democratic processes, and disseminate propaganda. He is an advocate for increasing media literacy who recognizes the urgent need for moral formation for engaging and using media well. He joins me today to talk about his fascinating and important work, especially in light of recent world events.

Follow-up Resources: 

●      News and other information about Prof. Weninger and his work

●      “ND Expert Tim Weninger: Using social media to dehumanize is part of the conflict playbook,” article in ND Works by Jessica Sieff

●      “Media, Polarization, and the Gospel, with Deacon Matthew Kuna,” podcast episode via Church Life Today

Church Life Today is a partnership between the McGrath Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame and OSV Podcasts from Our Sunday Visitor. Discover more ways to live, learn, and love your Catholic faith at Sharing stories, starting conversations.