Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce Vs. The Internet: A Relationship Shaped by Disinformation

From partisan politics to Covid conspiracies and the gender dynamics of celebrity relationships, Blackbird.AI’s RAV3N team found that the narratives surrounding Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce's relationship often reflect – and sometimes amplify – broader societal divides.

Beatrice Titus, Thomas Hynes, and Blackbird.AI’s RAV3N Narrative Intelligence and Research Team on January 25, 2024

The Blackbird.AI RAV3N team are all fans of Taylor Swift. We admire her musical talent, business smarts, and bold brand. And, like many fans, it’s impossible to ignore the narratives – many of which are harmful – that swirl around Swift. 

The dynamics between celebrities and their fans have drastically evolved in the digital age. With social media and online forums enabling real-time discussion of celebrity news and gossip, public discourse extends beyond simple tabloid fodder. Celebrity relationships often become conduits for broader socio-political narratives as different groups project their ideologies and beliefs onto famous couples. 

The recent highly publicized relationship between music superstar Taylor Swift and NFL tight end Travis Kelce illustrates this phenomenon. Their relationship has generated diverse and polarizing narratives across social media and online platforms, showcasing how celebrity romances can be microcosms of societal divides. Our Constellation AI-driven Narrative Intelligence Platform and data analytics helped us unveil major narratives around the Swift-Kelce relationship and gain insight into the cultural significance of the discussions surrounding it.

One of the most critical dimensions of Blackbird.AI’s narrative intelligence and risk analysis is understanding how all entities, the authors, the hashtags, and the URLs that make up a narrative interact with each other. Our network graphs within our Constellation Platform allow us to map out all the relationships between these entities to quickly identify relative influence and pockets of potential risk.For example, here on this network graph, we are visualizing the influence of Taylor Swift unfolding online.

Blackbird.AI analysts Beatrice Titus and Thomas Hynes, who contributed to this blog post, noted that the RAV3N team was compelled to examine Taylor Swift after discovering a thread that “looked to be a potential negative narrative around Swift’s dating habits that was spun by Swifties to be light-hearted and positive for her image. Narratives are any assertion that shapes perception about a person, place, or thing in the information ecosystem. Users originally made jokes about what new material she might make following a break-up with Kelce with the intent to denigrate her character. Still, Swifties saw this as an opportunity to combine their overlapping interests in Swift and football to band together and make light of that potential situation.”

Additionally, the analysts recognized anomalous and bot-like activity was high throughout the entire dataset, 28.2% and 14.3%, respectively. In addition, we utilized the Blackbird.AI activity graph, which guided us to the most important conversation spikes, seen below, on September 24 and 25, 2023. Unpacking narratives often had our analysts looking towards prominent users and terminology – like negative sentiment – sometimes directed towards Swift. As we unpacked narratives, we often identified a counter-narrative against the prevailing conversation where Swift fans expressed positive sentiment.

The Polarization of Narratives: Network Graphs Reveal Distinct Echo Chambers

Advanced network graphing techniques visually represent how narratives form and propagate across online communities. Using Constellation to analyze discussions around Swift and Kelce reveals high levels of polarization, with distinct echo chambers emerging. The graph is color-coded to distinguish groups of users. On one side, one agenda-driven group pushed conspiracy theories about Swift and Kelce being pawns of “Big Pharma” and the “liberal elite.” One notable narrative suggests their relationship is a deliberate ploy to influence young voters and promote agenda-driven causes. However, even within agenda-driven discussions, there is dissent. One prominent conservative voice criticizes the conspiracy angle, aligning more with the perspectives of agenda-driven users. This underscores how celebrity discourses traverse political divides in complex ways, with echo chambers that are porous and leaky.

Analysis of the narratives reveals how discussions about Swift and Kelce’s relationship act as microcosms that reflect and amplify broader societal divides.

The activity graph depicts user engagement with the conversation surrounding Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce’s relationship, allowing the analysts to visualize the spikes in interaction.

Emerging Narrative: Taylor Swift and Alleged AI-Generated Nude Images

Influencer Receives Mixed Reactions: A social media influencer created the first AI-generated sexually explicit images, receiving varied responses. While some users insulted the influencer’s appearance and personality, others expressed support. The positive sentiment was notable, with 14.1% of content being favorable. Supporters often focused on the deep fake images, joking about the influencer breaking the internet and angering Taylor Swift’s fans (Swifties).

“Swifties are Racist” Narrative: In defense of the influencer and others who propagated the images, some users criticized Swifties for making racially charged insults and doxxing the influencer. This led to defenders comparing Swift’s concerts and fan base to the KKK, claiming Swiftie’s comments were unprovoked and unjustified.

“Men are Bad” Argument: Some Swifties blamed men in general for creating these images, seeing it as a reflection of broader societal issues against women. They accused men of jealousy towards successful women and politicized the issue, with some claiming right-wingers minimize the misogyny involved in such deep fakes.

Taylor Swift’s Billionaire Status: As the deep fakes spread, some users suggested Swift would be unaffected due to her wealth. However, 30.2% of posts disagreed, arguing that being wealthy doesn’t negate the impact of digital assault and sexualization.
Protect Taylor Swift Movement: Swifties tried to counter the spread of the deep fakes by flooding the search term “Taylor Swift AI” with positive content instead of explicit images. This effort was part of a broader attempt to protect Swift, as her fans believe she protects them.

Increased Awareness of the Content: The trending of these topics may have inadvertently exposed more people to the explicit content. Analysts noted that the deep fakes often included references to the Kansas City Chiefs and Travis Kelce, linking them to recent discussions about the Chiefs in the playoffs and a potential “Taylor Swift Super Bowl.”

Narrative #1: The Swift-Kelce “Mastermind” – A Celebrity Conspiracy Theory

One pervasive conspiracy theory originating from agenda-driven forums purports that Swift and Kelce’s relationship is a meticulously orchestrated PR scheme to promote partisan ideologies due to her ability to rally political action, evidenced by her ability to drive voter registration. This was exemplified by an increase in new registered voters following her call to action in late September. This narrative points to Kelce’s associations with companies like Pfizer and Anheuser-Busch (Bud Light) and his vocal support for the Black Lives Matter movement. It also references Swift’s open criticism of Donald Trump and alleged Democratic Party ties. According to this viewpoint, their relationship is a deliberate effort to positively manipulate young voters by portraying agenda-driven causes. The famous duo is cast as pawns in a grander narrative scripted by media elites and big corporations. This conspiracy theory, while sensationalized, taps into sentiments about celebrity culture being used for mind control and mass influence by nefarious institutional forces. It amplifies agenda-driven fears about large entities like Big Pharma pushing secret partisan agendas.

Narrative #2: Swift & Kelce – A Storyline to Boost NFL Ratings 

Alternatively, some agenda-driven users advance an opposing theory that the relationship is a marketing gimmick orchestrated by the NFL and media companies. The timing and promotion of Swift’s appearances with Kelce during primetime games and broadcasts is evidence of this PR coordination. According to this narrative, the romance is a ploy to attract Swift’s large contingent of diverse fans, thereby increasing merchandise sales, TV ratings, and overall revenue. Here, the relationship is cast not as sinister mind-control but as a commercial move for mutual benefit. However, this theory also touches on themes of celebrity culture being manufactured and fueled by greed.

Narrative #3: Divides in Gender Roles and Relationship Power Dynamics

Lurking beneath both conspiracy narratives are ingrained societal divides related to gender roles and power dynamics in male-female relationships. Some theories position Swift as a manipulator (in an agenda-driven narrative) or a pawn (in another agenda-driven narrative). Kelce is similarly denied autonomy, as he is painted as a puppet. This reflects broader societal views of women as manipulative and cunning in relationships and, conversely, of famous men as easily swayed by the women they date. Swift’s past dating history makes her a target for accusations of failed relationships being fodder for her songwriting. These flawed assumptions reveal how gender bias shapes celebrity gossip to align with broader patriarchal worldviews.

Despite the negative conspiracy narratives, discussions about Swift and Kelce highlight her vast cultural influence in empowering ways. 

By analyzing user interactions, hashtags, and URLs, this Constellation network graph reveals polarized echo chambers, sharing narratives about Taylor Swift’s and Travis Kelce’s relationship.

Narrative #4: Swift’s Presence Boosts Kelce Fandom and Merchandise Sales

Swift’s appearance at Kansas City Chiefs games correlated with a 400% surge in Travis Kelce jersey sales. Ticket sales for games also saw a dramatic boost whenever Swift was present. Swift’s presence at the Jets game the following week resulted in more than double the number of tickets per day than any other day throughout the season. This phenomenon, “The Taylor Swift Effect,” showcases her unique star power and economic influence. Brands like Heinz leveraged her presence in humorous and viral social media campaigns. 

Narrative #5: Song References Reflect Swift’s Cultural Relevance

Across social media, fans creatively wove Taylor Swift’s song references into posts about her attending Chiefs games. Lyrics and titles from songs like “Blank Space,” “Getaway Car,” and “You Belong With Me” were tweaked to humorous effect, referencing these three songs as a response to events during the first game Taylor Swift attended. These events include announcers referencing “Blank Space” during a Kelce touchdown, the stadium playing “You Belong with Me,” and released images of Swift and Kelce driving off in a convertible car labeled by fans as the “Getaway Car.” Users also commonly drew comparisons of the trending relationship and its lore to the song “End Game,” in which Swift writes, “We got big reputations.” This collective creative effort demonstrated Swift’s cultural relevance and emphasized female perspectives in sports fandom.

Narrative #6: Humor and Levity: Swift as Figure of Fun and Relatability 

Another positive thread was the humorous viral meme about Swift’s game snack preferences in which a fan account posted an image of Swift enjoying the game with a plate of chicken fingers with two dips, labeling them as “ketchup and seemingly ranch.” The unusual wording of the post went viral with the term “seemingly ranch,” resulting in 19.3% of posts flagging as anomalous. This event extended into brands Arby’s and Heinz joining the conversation and even producing a limited edition bottle based on the post labeled “Ketchup and Seemingly Ranch.” Additionally, lighthearted speculation about her writing a breakup song in case she splits from Kelce emphasized a relatable side over her dating image.

Narrative #7: “Miss Americana” for President: Swift as a Figure of Populism

A smaller but notable narrative cast Swift as a populist political figure who should run for President with Kelce as her First Gentleman. Posts went so far as to suggest users write-in Swift for president on the 2024 ballot. While mostly tongue-in-cheek, this idea underscores her power as a cultural unifier in a heavily divided political landscape. It elevates her as an embodiment of positivity, youth, and progressive change.

Narrative #8: The Darker Corners of Online Discourse

However, alongside the positive narratives were disturbing fringe theories highlighting the darker recesses of online discussions. Some accounts pushed blatantly false claims of NFL match-rigging to favor the Chiefs during Swift’s attendance. More concerning were calls to boycott or disrupt games Swift attended, as well as threats of violence against her and Kelce. While these extremes came from less credible sources, it underscores how digital platforms can host dangerous rhetoric when left unmoderated.

Conclusion: Understanding Celebrity Narratives is Vital for the Digital Age

The narratives surrounding Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce’s relationship reveal how celebrity couples act as conduits to amplify broader societal narratives. They depict various groups’ hopes, fears, dreams, and ideologies. The polarized discussion threads showcase how digital communication enables both community-building and hatred around celebrity gossip. Understanding these dynamics is crucial as we continue navigating the complex entanglement of online narratives. Analyzing celebrity culture discourse using AI and advanced analytic techniques provides vital insights into the psyche of different communities and where society currently stands. Responsible governance of digital platforms will also be essential to promote constructive dialogues while limiting the reach of dangerous fringe rhetoric. In the digital age, where information flows rapidly across a web of narratives, we must actively work to stem the tides of harmful disinformation and misinformation.

About Blackbird.AI

BLACKBIRD.AI protects organizations from narrative attacks created by misinformation and disinformation that cause financial and reputational harm. Powered by our AI-driven proprietary technology, including the Constellation narrative intelligence platform, RAV3N Risk LMM, Narrative Feed, and our RAV3N Narrative Intelligence and Research Team, Blackbird.AI provides a disruptive shift in how organizations can protect themselves from what the World Economic Forum called the #1 global risk in 2024.

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