From the Archives

Work on Mis/Disinformation

The events surrounding the 2016 US presidential election sparked a sharp increase in the study of misinformation, disinformation, and other forms of problematic information online. During this period, Data & Society set out new research agendas that substantially contributed to the formation of a new subfield of online research, taking seriously the influence of online media manipulators on politics, online discourse, and public safety. In an era of so-called “fake news,” Data & Society researchers prioritized a sociotechnical approach to these issues. Our work argued that understanding mis/disinformation necessitated analyzing not only the technical mechanisms that undergirded amplification and algorithmic recommendation, but also the role that individuals and communities played in exploiting those technologies — intentionally and not — to create an atmosphere of information disorder.

Our first publication in the field, 2017’s Media Manipulation and Disinformation Online by Alice Marwick and Becca Lewis, assembled a broad survey of the communities who organized around new forms of political manipulation online following the 2016 US presidential election, and the techniques they used. In Searching for Alternative Facts (2018), Francesca Tripodi drew clear connections between the local textual practices of political communities and the exploitable nature of search engine results. In The Oxygen of Amplification (2018), Whitney Phillips described the development of a risky relationship between online communities of extremists and mainstream journalism, resulting in a new set of best practices for covering online mis/disinformation without contributing to manipulators’ goals. And in their 2019 report Data Voids: Where Missing Information Can Be Easily Exploited, danah boyd and Michael Golebiewski used several case studies of breaking news events to highlight how the realities of news reporting intersect with the limitations of search results and other data-reliant algorithms to create sociotechnical exploits.

As relevant today as when they were released, this selection of reports from 2017–2021 demonstrates an approach to mis/disinformation built around interdisciplinary inquiry and sociotechnical analysis. 

For a full archive of Data & Society’s Media Manipulation and Disinformation work including reports by Amelia Acker, Robyn Caplan, Joan Donovan, Lauren Hanson, Caroline Jack, Gabrielle Lim, Jeanna Matthews, Anthony Nadler, Becca Lewis, Britt Paris, and William Partin see our past research page.