Distinguished Lecture

Parler Games: Folklore, Social Media, and Insurrection

Wednesday, April 24, 2024
12:30 pm to 1:45 pm PDT

Timothy Tangherlini

Parler Games: Folklore, Social Media, and Insurrection — Timothy Tangherlini (April 24, 2024)

Parler Games: Folklore, Social Media, and Insurrection — Timothy Tangherlini (April 24, 2024)

We present a computational folkloristic approach to understanding the emergent conspiracy to attack the Capitol on January 6th that developed on the social media platform Parler.

Narrative frameworks driving conversations on that platform had, from the days immediately subsequent to the 2020 election, two distinct yet overlapping topologies, the first redolent of conspiracy theories, where low probability connections between narrative domains combine to form a vast linked network of threats, and the second reminiscent of conspiracy, where people collaborate to develop a covert strategy to effect some (nefarious) end, here the overthrow of the Capitol. Using an interlocking set of NLP tools, we extract actants and their relationships to generate these graphs. Very simply change point detection allows us to pinpoint moments when the conversations change, while an LLM-based topic modeling approach reduces the complexity of the relationships between actants.

We find that the forum participants deployed many aspects of the QAnon world, where globalists, “demonrats”, big tech, big pharma, the Chinese communist party, and other deep state actors colluded to rob patriotic Americans of their president. Leveraging appeals to God, country and patriotism, the participants quickly resolve to "learn a lesson from BLM/Antifa" and stage a “peaceful protest” at the Capitol to block certification of the vote. The planning is deliberate and aims to coordinate “patriot” groups and militias; in the immediate aftermath of January 6, the conversations shift rapidly to assigning blame to BLM/Antifa infiltrators.


Timothy Tangherlini

Timothy R. Tangherlini is a professor in the UC Berkeley Department of Scandinavian. A folklorist and ethnographer by training, he is the author of Danish Folktales, Legends and Other Stories (2014), Talking Trauma (1999), and Interpreting Legend (1994). He has also published widely in academic journals, including The Journal of American Folklore, Western Folklore, Journal of Folklore Research, Folklore, Scandinavian Studies, Danske Studier, PlosOne, Computer, and Communications of the Association for Computing Machines. He is currently a co-PI on an international team developing ISEBEL: Intelligent Search Engine for Belief Legends. He is interested in the circulation of stories on and across social networks, and the ways in which stories are used by individuals in their ongoing negotiation of ideology with the groups to which they belong. In general, his work focuses on computational approaches to problems in the study of folklore, literature and culture. 

He has been deeply involved in the development of the field of culture analytics, co-directing a three-year long program at the NSF's Institute for Pure and Applied Mathematics. He also led the NEH's Institute for Advanced Topics in Digital Humanities on Network Analysis for the Humanities. Currently, his work, in collaboration with colleagues at UCLA, focuses on automated methods for the detection of conspiracy theories from large social media corpora. Along with a colleague at Stanford, he is developing a search engine for dance movement in K-Pop using deep learning methods.

He is a fellow of the American Folklore Society and the Royal Gustav Adolf Academy (one of Sweden’s Royal Academies). A producer of three independent documentary films, he has also consulted on films for Disney Animation, National Geographic Television, National Geographic Specials and PBS. His research has been funded by the NEH, the NSF, the NIH, the Mellon Foundation, the Nordic Council of Ministers, the Korea Foundation, the American Scandinavian Foundation, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies, and Google.

Prior to joining the Cal faculty, he was a professor in the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures and the Scandinavian Section at UCLA. He has held appointments at the University of Copenhagen, the University of Iceland, and Harvard University. He has held guest appointments at the University of Tartu (Estonia), and the University of Gothenburg.

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Timothy R. Tangherlini headshot
Timothy R. Tangherlini (UC Berkeley photo)


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Last updated:

April 29, 2024