InfoSec Seminar: On the Origins of Memes by Means of Fringe Web Communities

Speaker: Emiliano De Cristofaro

Date/Time: 08-Nov-2018, 16:00 UTC

Venue: Robert 3.09



Internet memes are increasingly used to sway and manipulate public opinion. This prompts the need to study their propa- gation, evolution, and influence across the Web. In this paper, we detect and measure the propagation of memes across mul- tiple Web communities, using a processing pipeline based on perceptual hashing and clustering techniques, and a dataset of 160M images from 2.6B posts gathered from Twitter, Reddit, 4chan’s Politically Incorrect board (/pol/), and Gab, over the course of 13 months. We group the images posted on fringe Web communities (/pol/, Gab, and The Donald subreddit) into clusters, annotate them using meme metadata obtained from Know Your Meme, and also map images from mainstream communities (Twitter and Reddit) to the clusters.

Our analysis provides an assessment of the popularity and diversity of memes in the context of each community, showing, e.g., that racist memes are extremely common in fringe Web communities. We also find a substantial number of politics- related memes on both mainstream and fringe Web commu- nities, supporting media reports that memes might be used to enhance or harm politicians. Finally, we use Hawkes processes to model the interplay between Web communities and quantify their reciprocal influence, finding that /pol/ substantially influ- ences the meme ecosystem with the number of memes it pro- duces, while The Donald has a higher success rate in pushing them to other communities.


Emiliano De Cristofaro is an Associate Professor ("Reader" until recently) in Security and Privacy Enhancing Technologies at University College London (UCL)'s Computer Science Department, where he heads the Information Security Research Group. He is also a Faculty Fellow at the Turing Institute, the national institute for data science and AI. Before joining UCL in 2013, he was a research scientist at Xerox PARC. he received a summa-cum-laude Laurea degree in Computer Science from the University of Salerno, Italy (2005), then, in 2011, a PhD in Networked Systems from the University of California, Irvine, advised by Gene Tsudik. During my PhD, he also spent a few months on research internships at NEC in Heidelberg (2008), INRIA in Grenoble (2009), and Nokia in Lausanne (2010). Overall, Emiliano does research in security and privacy enhancing technologies. These days he works on understanding and countering security issues via measurement studies and data-driven analysis, as well as tackling problems at the intersection of machine learning and security/privacy.

Add to Calendar

This page was last modified on 27 Mar 2014.