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"#FalseFlag: Exploring Themes in Conspiracy Theory Tweets Regarding the Robb Elementary School Active Shooter Event" (by Madison K. Doyle and M. Hunter Martaindale): Review 3

Published onDec 05, 2023
"#FalseFlag: Exploring Themes in Conspiracy Theory Tweets Regarding the Robb Elementary School Active Shooter Event" (by Madison K. Doyle and M. Hunter Martaindale): Review 3

Vote: Publish Pending Major Changes

The topic for this manuscript is interesting and offers a potentially valuable contribution to the field across multiple areas of study. My justification for needing changes is primarily based on clarification surrounding data collection and description of the findings of the study, which can improve the reader’s ability to adequately evaluate the validity of the study and apply its findings. The decision to vote for “major” changes was primarily due to the comments/recommendations I made regarding possible additional keywords in data collection, description of the findings, and reorientation of the Discussion section.

I found this topic to be quite interesting and potentially impactful for the criminological literature. I believe that the authors make a good case for the need to study conspiracy theory content, and studies like this have implications for various subareas of criminology and related fields (public opinion, social movements, police-community relations, etc.). I offer the following comments and suggestions with the hope of helping the authors improve the manuscript in ways that I think could bolster its impact and contribution to the field.

Were any other keywords used to gather conspiracy theories about the Uvalde school shooting? You make a reasonable argument for the appropriateness of the #FalseFlag keyword to collect conspiracy theories, but there wasn’t a strong argument for the comprehensiveness of this keyword. I would also be interested in knowing whether or not the tweets in your sample were made entirely by different users. It seems possible that, over a six-month time span, 101 tweets could be the product of a small number of users, which would further limit the generalizability of the findings.

One approach to this might include looking at cross-referencing with other hashtags used in #FalseFlag tweets (e.g., #Staged).

I understand that Tweets are public domain, but I would suggest redacting or withholding usernames and account pictures in direct quotes, exhibits, and text in the manuscript. I’m not sure if it is adding to the analysis or manuscript.

There didn’t appear to be much description available about the specific themes. Is this because there wasn’t much to describe and, if so, what is these themes’ impact on the knowledge base? Some ideas for additional detail that might be constructive might include (1) how users distributed across the themes and subcategories, (2) the timing/persistence of themes/subcategories over the six-month observation period, (3) connections to existing literature and theory, and so on.

Your discussion seems more centered around the presence of conspiracy theories than the themes/variations within conspiracy theories identified in your study. The impact of your study would be heightened with practical implications more specific to the findings of your study (even if they are indirect). The manuscript seems centered more on the framing topic and implications than the data, analysis, and results. Building the Findings section would help with this, but I would also recommend the authors review the implications from their findings first rather than the existing literature.

Specific Comments:

  • The manuscript would benefit from an additional round of proofreading with an eye toward conciseness and typos/grammar. However, none of the errors that I read disrupted the manuscript's readability.

  • Include a page number with direct quotes from the literature (e.g., the definition of false flag in the literature review).

  • I’d recommend either referring to “the Left” and “the Right” with capital letters to indicate group title, or referring to these as “politically left” or “politically right.” It might be a little clearer to use “politically” as the umbrellas of “the Left” and “the Right” might be more up for debate, however.

  • Remember to update the in-text references to figures and tables (e.g., “Figure X” in the Results section).

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