Data & Society Research Affiliate Amelia Acker’s Data Craft analyzes how bad actors manipulate metadata to create effective disinformation campaigns and provides tips for researchers and technology companies trying to spot this “data craft.”
“Data craft” is the term Acker coins for all those “practices that create, rely on, or even play with the proliferation of data on social media by engaging with new computational and algorithmic mechanisms of organization and classification.” Data Craft elucidates what metadata is, how users create metadata, and how metadata is used by platforms.
Bad actors typically manipulate “platform activity signals” like usernames, profile handles, bio fields, post dates, and follower counts. Acker unveils the “craftwork” of manipulating metadata with three case studies that focus on Instagram accounts of government representatives; official U.S. Government Twitter accounts; and Facebook ads purchased by the Russian-based Internet Research Agency.
“Data craft is about manipulating a system to assert power over it, and in doing so it can reinforce and reveal limits, or even blind spots in platforms.”
Acker argues that understanding data craft is integral to identifying and combating disinformation campaigns, as data craft often allows disinformation campaigns to go undetected – especially by automated content moderation algorithms.
Intended for internet researchers, technology companies, and other stakeholders strategizing to combat disinformation, the report leaves readers with a concrete understanding of metadata’s role on platforms and avenues to identify vulnerabilities and hold platforms accountable.