True Costs of Misinformation Workshop: Call for Participants

What are the financial, social, and human costs of misinformation? What is the price that businesses, hospitals, civil society groups, and schools pay for false or misleading information online? How can researchers support public officials and especially the communities targeted by disinformation campaigns when costing out “fake news funds” and building capacity for digital resilience? Can we put a price tag on misinformation, and if so, how, and who is responsible for paying it?

This workshop invites academics, journalists, civil society actors, and private industry leaders to engage with these questions in order to understand the true costs of misinformation, and in doing so, better inform policies on internet governance, private sector regulation, and technological innovation. We aim to expand the terms of debate in disinformation studies and bring communication and digital politics scholars in conversation with economists, climate change modeling experts, humanitarian and human rights workers, and public health scholars. By bringing together experts in adjacent fields developing impact assessment models, crisis response frameworks, auditing tools, and accountability guidelines and mechanisms, this event explores novel and creative explanatory models to study the impacts of misinformation and advances a “whole-of-society approach” (Donovan et al 2021).

At the same time, this workshop invites critical inquiry into methodology: what can qualitative researchers and ethnographers learn from quantitative scholars and risk analysts when attempting to measure impacts, effects, harms, and unintended consequences of mis- and disinformation? Crucially, we aim to have reflexive debate around the politics and ethics of measurement and funding: what are the opportunities and risks when developing precise metrics, and how do we recognize distortions and power asymmetries in who and what get to be counted (Krause 2014; Madianou et al 2019)? When understanding misinformation impacts, how can we nuance existing models of media effects that takes into consideration audience agency and accountability in sharing misinformation (Chadwick & Vaccari 2019; Madrid-Morales et al 2021; Tandoc et al 2019)?

At the Shorenstein Center, we host workshops that bring researchers in conversation with policymakers, journalists and community organizers. This is a unique opportunity to present current research, have lively debate about new or speculative frameworks, and explore collaborations.

Two tracks are available for participants: 1) The Presenter Track invites those who have current or future research on related themes. They will be assigned to panels (where they present for 15 minutes) or roundtables (where they present short opening statements before dynamic Q&A) 2) The Respondent Track invites those with research or practical experience related to the topic and will be expected to prepare questions and responses to the Presenters. As with other workshops, there will be opportunities for networking and mentoring.

Relevant paper topics for this conference include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Climate change research meets disinformation studies: what can disinformation studies learn from climate change impact assessment models? What are the “costs of inaction” to a healthy information environment?
  • Economics of disinformation: how are financial markets affected by fake news? Does fake news lead to economic insecurity? How can we put a price tag on opportunity costs? What are the financial costs to businesses (Cavazos 2019)?
  • Media “effects” of fake news events to public perceptions and attitudes: What are case studies that illustrate causal impacts? What are the opportunities and risks of “bringing back” Effects Tradition frameworks to political communication studies (Anderson 2021)?
  • Casualties of fake news: counting the dead, costs of war and conflict (Crawford 2019), the politics of grievability (Butler 2016) and the differential value of communities harmed by disinformation enabled by platforms (Tworek 2021)
  • Disinformation-for-profit: ad fraud, ad tech (Braun & Eklund 2019), cyberscams, pyramid schemes, disinformation strategists, entrepreneurs, and paid troll armies around the world (Ong & Cabanes 2019)
  • Fake news-busting in global context: opportunities and risks of interventions such as fact-checking, media freedom and media literacy campaigns (Udupa 2019)
  • Targeted harassment: journalists and human rights workers facing death threats and cyberattacks; organizational resilience, cybersecurity and mental health support for workers (Ong et al 2021); racially targeted misinformation (Collins-Dexter 2020; Reddi et al 2021)
  • The politics of philanthropy and global aid: global inequalities in the development and aid sector, the critique of donor-driven accountability (Scott et al 2017), nationalist smear campaigns against international agencies / donors
  • The ethics of measurement: ethical questions of putting monetary value to the emotional and mental health costs of being targeted by disinformation campaigns

Event information

This is a two-day in-person event in Cambridge, MA from March 9 to 10, 2022. We will make any adjustments to the in-person format by December 30, 2021, based on CDC guidelines and community recommendations.

Day one will feature an opening presentation by the True Costs project team and a panel led by Yves Daccord, former director-general of the International Committee of the Red Cross. Day Two will have three panels / roundtables and networking opportunities.

This event launches the True Costs of Misinformation Research Network. For interested academic participants, the planned output of the event includes a journal special issue.

How to apply

You may apply as Presenter or Respondent, or you can select “Either.”

Presenters are expected to submit a paper title and abstract of 350 to 500 words describing your research and intellectual position, methodological approach, and (expected) results.

Respondents are invited to submit a 300 word description of how your expertise and experience makes you a relevant participant.

Those who select “Either” should simply submit their paper title and abstract and will be considered for participation in the workshop even if their paper is not selected.

We offer limited travel funding support, reserved for junior scholars. Kindly indicate in your submission if you might need any travel support.

Key dates

Application Deadline: December 15, 2021
Selection Notification: December 30, 2021
Workshop Dates: March 9 to 10, 2022

Questions? Email jcong@hks.harvard.edu  

Credits

The True Costs of Misinformation team of the Technology and Social Change Project at the Shorenstein Center is composed of Dr. Joan Donovan, Dr. Jonathan Corpus Ong, Dr. Rob Faris, Dr. Alexei Sisulu Abrahams, Jennifer Preston and Gabrielle Lim. Click here for more information.  

References

Anderson, C.W. (2021). Fake News Is Not a Virus. Communication Theory 31(1): 42-61.

Braun, J. & Ekland, J. (2019). Fake News, Real Money: Ad-Tech Platforms, Profit-Driven Hoaxes and the Business of Journalism. Digital Journalism 7(1):1-21.

Butler, J. (2016). Frames of War: When Is Life Grievable? London: Verso.
Cavazos, A. (2019). The Economic Cost of Bad Actors on the Internet. CHEQ / University of Baltimore. https://s3.amazonaws.com/media.mediapost.com/uploads/EconomicCostOfFakeNews.pdf

Chadwick, A. & Vaccari, S. (2019). News Sharing on UK Social Media: Misinformation, Disinformation, and Correction. Loughborough: Online Civic Culture Centre, Loughborough University.

Collins-Dexter, B. (2020). Canaries in the Coal Mine: Covid-19 Misinformation and Black Communities. Media Manipulation Project. Shorenstein Center. Harvard Kennedy School. https://shorensteincenter.org/canaries-in-the-coal-mine/

Crawford, N. (2019). Accountability for Killing: Moral Responsibility for Collateral Damage in America’s Post-9/11 Wars. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Donovan, J, Friedberg, B, Lim, G., Leaver, N., Nilsen, J., Dreyfuss, E. (2021). Mitigating Medical Misinformation: A Whole-of-Society Approach to Countering Spam, Scams and Hoaxes. Media Manipulation Project. Shorenstein Center. Harvard Kennedy School. https://mediamanipulation.org/research/mitigating-medical-misinformation-whole-society-approach-countering-spam-scams-and-hoaxes

Feldstein, S. (2021). The Rise of Digital Repression: How Technology is Reshaping Power, Politics, and Resistance. Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Series.

Krause, M. (2014). The Good Project: Humanitarian NGOs and the Fragmentation of Reason. Chicago: Chicago University Press.

Madianou, M., Ong, J.C., Longboan, L. & Cornelio, J. The Appearance of Accountability: Communication Technologies and Power Asymmetries in Humanitarian Aid and Disaster Recovery. Journal of Communication, 66(6): 960-981.

Madrid-Morales, D., Wasserman, H., Gondwe, G., Ndlovu, E., Sikanku, E., Tully, L., Umejei, E, & Uzuegbunam, C. (2021). Motivations for Sharing Misinformation: A Comparative Study of Six Sub-Saharan African Countries. International Journal of Communication 15: 1200-1219.

Ong, J.C. & Cabanes, J.V. (2019). “When Disinformation Studies Meets Production Studies: Social Identities and Moral Justifications in the Political Trolling Industry.” International Journal of Communication 13: 5771-5790.

Ong, J.C., Tintiangko, J. & Fallorina, R. (2021). “Human Rights in Survival Mode: Developing New Narratives and Supporting Creative Workers in the Philippines”. Media Manipulation Project. Shorenstein Center. Harvard Kennedy School. https://mediamanipulation.org/research/human-rights-survival-mode-rebuilding-trust-and-supporting-digital-workers-philippines

Reddi, M., Kreiss, D. & Kuo, R. (2021). Identity Propaganda: Racial Narratives and Disinformation. New Media & Society. Online First July 17.

Scott, M., Bunce, M. & Wright, K. (2017). Donor Power and the News: The Influence of Foundation Funding on International Public Service Journalism. The International Journal of Press/ Politics 22(2):163-184.

Tandoc, E., Lim, D. & Ling, R. (2019). Diffusion of Disinformation: How Social Media Users Respond to Fake News and Why. Journalism 21(3):381-398.

Tworek, H. (2021, 4 October). Facebook’s America-centrism Is Now Plain for All to See. Center for International Governance Innovation. https://www.cigionline.org/articles/facebooks-america-centrism-is-now-plain-for-all-to-see/

Udupa, S. (2019, 26 January). India Needs a Fresh Strategy to Tackle Online Extreme Speech. Engage.
https://www.epw.in/engage/article/election-2019-india-needs-fresh-strategy-to-tackle-new-digital-tools