Platform Accountability & Misinformation

A handful of large digital platforms dominate the public space online. Every day, these platforms make decisions on a range of issues that affect the public sphere—including misinformation, hate speech, and digital advertising. Recent elections in the U.S., U.K., France, and Germany have surfaced the breadth and depth of information pollution, identifying it as a global threat to democracy. The Cambridge Analytica and Facebook scandal has raised questions about user control, privacy, and the need for regulation of social media platforms.

The Shorenstein Center has expanded to include top academic experts on information pollution who do research as well as run online projects that track and stop the spread of misinformation in national elections around the globe. The Center also provides recommendations on how to address the negative effects of today’s digital platforms.

Information Disorder Lab

The Information Disorder Lab (IDLab) is a project of the Shorenstein Center designed to identify, track, and analyze the spread of mis- and disinformation on the Internet. We share non-partisan, evidence-based research, including weekly briefings, reports, and webinars for U.S. newsrooms, internet platforms, academics and other interested stakeholders.

The IDLab grows out of a core mission of the Shorenstein Center: to explore the intersection and impact of media, politics and public policy in theory and practice. The IDLab is funded by U.S. foundations: Craig Newmark Philanthropies, Ford Foundation, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and the Open Society Foundations.

Our Approach:

  • Topic Monitoring: For each topic area of interest (eg. immigration, election integrity, or the economy), we use a keyword monitoring strategy that surfaces relevant content by iteratively testing and optimizing a network of boolean search queries. The content is then filtered to identify potential disinformation.  Research analysts review the resulting content and identify items for assessment.
  • Source Monitoring: Known sources of information disorder are monitored continuously using a variety of custom-built and off-the-shelf monitoring tools.  New potential sources of problematic content are identified through graph network analysis of engagement with known sources.  Content from these sources is filtered based on engagement and topic and then monitored by research analysts who identify possible disinformation for assessment.
  • Content Assessment: Items identified through source and topic monitoring are coded using a rubric to classify the type of information and quantify its relevance and risk. We analyze content that exceeds a threshold based on this assessment.
  • Content Analysis: Research analysts examine content exceeding the threshold, using a series of reporting and verification procedures to determine the nature and scale of the information disorder.  Based on this analysis the lab may generate a short report to share with stakeholders or combine the identified content with similar instances to explore a broader trend.

This approach is designed to maximize the diversity of sources and content that the IDLab reviews, to eliminate any potential bias and to employ a reproducible framework for evaluating the scale and structure of the information disorder problem.

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Digital Deceit II: A Policy Agenda to Fight Misinformation on the Internet
October 2, 2018
By Dipayan Gosh, Research Fellow at the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, and Ben Scott, Director of Policy & Advocacy, Omidyar Network

Time to Fix It: Developing Rules for Internet Capitalism
August 16, 2018
By Tom Wheeler, Senior Research Fellow, Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy and Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government at Harvard Kennedy School

Transparency: What’s Gone Wrong with Social Media and What Can We Do About It?
March 27, 2018
By Wael Ghonim, Entrepreneurship Fellow, Fall 2017, and author of Revolution 2.0, and Jake Rashbass, Knox Fellow and Master in Public Policy student, Harvard Kennedy School

The Science of Fake News
Science, March 2018
by David M. J. Lazer, Matthew A. Baum, et al.

#DigitalDeceit: The Technologies Behind Precision Propaganda on the Internet
January 23, 2018
By Dipayan Ghosh, Shorenstein Fellow, and Ben Scott, Senior Advisor to the Open Technology Institute at New America. Co-published by the New America Foundation and the Shorenstein Center.

Information Disorder: Toward an interdisciplinary framework for research and policymaking
October 31, 2017
By Claire Wardle, PhD and Hossein Derakhshan, with research support from Anne Burns and Nic Dias

Black Pigeon Speaks: The Anatomy of the Worldview of an Alt-Right YouTuber
June 28, 2017
By Zack Exley, Joan Shorenstein Fellow (spring 2017), organizer, author and former senior advisor to the Bernie Sanders campaign

Combating Fake News: An Agenda for Research and Action
May 2, 2017
Final report written by David Lazer, Matthew Baum, Nir Grinberg, Lisa Friedland, Kenneth Joseph, Will Hobbs, and Carolina Mattsson