Data & Society’s Media Manipulation & Disinformation research examines how different groups use the participatory culture of the internet to turn the strengths of a free society into vulnerabilities, ultimately threatening expressive freedoms and civil rights. Efforts to exploit technical, social, economic, and institutional configurations of media can catalyze social change, sow dissent, and challenge the stability of social institutions.
Broadly, this initiative takes a sociotechnical approach to understanding the social, political, and economic incentives to game information systems, websites, platforms, and search engines—especially in cases where the attackers intend to destabilize democratic, social, and economic institutions. Through empirical research, we identify the unintended consequences of socio-technical systems and track attempts to locate and address threats, with an eye towards increasing organizational capacity across fields, so that action can be taken as problems emerge.
From social movements, to political parties, governments, dissidents, and corporations, many groups engage in active efforts to shape media narratives. Media manipulation tactics include: planting and/or amplifying misinformation and disinformation using humans (troll armies, doxxing, and bounties) or digital tools (bots); targeting journalists or public figures for social engineering (psychological manipulation); gaming trending and ranking algorithms, and coordinating action across multiple user accounts to force topics, keywords, or questions into the public conversation. Because the internet is a tool, a tactic, and a territory – integral to challenging the relations of power– studying the new vulnerabilities of networked media is fundamental to the future of democracies.
Data & Society’s Media Manipulation research initiative is generously supported by the Craig Newmark Philanthropies, the Ford Foundation, News Integrity Initiative, and other donors through programmatic and general support.