May 8, 2021


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To cancel Disinfo, researchers must work with journalists

3 min read

At the end week, Facebook temporarily cut Australia’s access to professionally produced information on its platform. The US House Energy and Commerce Committee announced another date to toast the CEOs of major social media companies – this time about the misinformation that fueled the Jan.6 hold on Capitol Hill. huge new effort to tackle the problem of polarizing disinformation targeting Latinx voters in the United States.

The people who generate disinformation, disinformation and unwanted information are practicing the dark arts of communication, and it takes a wide range of methods to uncover their hidden activities. But for many independent researchers working on disinformation, there are thorny questions at the heart of what we do. What are the best ways to study disinformation? Should we work with journalists to do this?

Evidence of political disinformation is very difficult to grasp, especially on a global scale. Exposing and combating it requires many types of investigators, using many tools. Social media platforms need to do more of this work themselves. For now, in my opinion, the best way to investigate disinformation is to use as many methods as possible and as many partners as possible.

The team I help The director of the Oxford Internet Institute studies the dark art of disinformation. We do international fieldwork during elections and track the flow of money and data behind campaigns. We do in-depth country analysis, focus on particular platforms, and study changes over time. We do ethnography, interviews, content analysis, focus groups, and computational social science.

We generally do not support custom search requests. But when such requests come from a state attorney general’s office, Capitol Hill, or a professional reporter with an intriguing problem, we respond. This is what modern social science looks like, and the idea that the best route to new knowledge involves some type of outcome, a traditional method, or limited public engagement is a sop.

Even with all of these research tools, it is very difficult to sum up the global trends. Which countries have more misinformation and why? Which social media platforms seem to be the most susceptible to political manipulation? Who is behind the campaigns that seem to target entire regions, languages ​​and continents? It makes sense for academics, journalists and other independent researchers to collaborate, both to improve the quality of their reporting and to pool knowledge and experience in a systematic way. This means working with the news media, both to understand global trends and to bring our surveys to the public.

One way to get that global perspective is to look at evidence from independent researchers working around the world. Our last cybertroops report, for example, gathers evidence from more than 1,300 news articles, academic articles and investigative reports on disinformation published in eight languages. Some of the sources include working papers from Liberty house, the DFRLab, and Human Rights Watch. Other evidence comes from more than 500 newspaper and magazine articles published by news organizations known for their fact-checking and professionalism. Disinformation has been a “benchmark” for almost five years now, in more and more countries around the world, so there is now a fairly large body of knowledge and experience in this kind of reporting.

Certainly, reports of disinformation are on the rise because disinformation is on the rise and because journalists are learning what to investigate. We should not dismiss this evidence because it comes from journalists. What academics can provide are the tools for comparing cases. In my experience, there are five reasons why academics and professional journalists should join forces to fight disinformation.

First, journalists often generate important research questions through their reporting, or have access to the evidence they need others to analyze. Many of these investigators specialize in high quality testimonials. But they still want to know how pervasive a trend is. Journalists often lack the time and resources to make big comparisons – this is something a research team with specialization, methodological expertise, and a global mission can help.

Second, a growing number of professional news organizations now have dedicated data science teams, and many have top-notch data visualization designers, allowing us to demonstrate trends in new ways and sometimes even more. expose new trends and discoveries through creative, interactive and data-rich graphics. .

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