Last week I gave a talk at the ‘Politics, Fake News and the Post-Truth Era’ symposium organised by the Institute for Policy Research at the University of Bath. I presented some of the work that myself and several other colleagues from the Public Data Lab, a network of researchers working to facilitate research, engagement and public debate around the future of the data society, have done on fake news this year.
I focused on two publications we produced this year:
A Field Guide to Fake News – a research report that uses digital sociology approaches to explore the production, circulation and responses to fake news online. This is done in the form of recipes which other journalists and researchers can follow and adapt to their own investigations. You can see here the outcomes of a collaboration we had with BuzzFeed News around one of the recipes to explore ad networks used by fake news sites.
Five Provocations about Fake News – a research article that draws on Science and Technology Studies (STS) to challenge some of the themes that underlie existing debates and research about fake news and proposes some provocations and analytical lenses to enrich the way we understand it.
Nick Diakopoulos from the University of Maryland gave an interesting talk on algorithmic accountability and computational journalism and Jonathan Gray and I gave a preview of the Public Data Lab’s A Field Guide to Fake News, to be launched next month at the International Journalism Festival in Italy.
The field guide is a collection of recipes to trace the production, circulation and responses to fake news online. Its production is supported by the First Draft Coalition. The aim is to suggest different ways of mapping and responding to fake news beyond identifying and fact-checking suspect claims – including “thicker” accounts of circulation as a way to develop a richer understanding of how fake news moves and mobilises people, more nuanced accounts of what fake news is, and responses which are better attuned to the phenomenon.
In the wake of concerns about the role of “fake news” in relation to the US elections, the project aims to catalyse collaborations between leading digital media researchers, data journalists and civil society groups in order to map the issue and phenomenon of fake news in US and European politics.
The guide will look at how digital methods, data, tools, techniques and research approaches can be utilised in the service of increasing public understanding of the politics, production, circulation and responses to fake news online. In particular it will look at how digital traces from the web and online platforms can be repurposed in the service of public interest research, investigations, data stories and data journalism projects.
If you’re a data journalist or researcher interested in collaborating on data stories or investigations around the fake news phenomenon in your country, then please do drop us a line.
Earlier this month I gave a talk at the Digital Methods Winter School at the University of Amsterdam on how it is like to do social and cultural research with digital methods in a data sprint format. The talk happened on the opening day of a data sprint dedicated to exploring different aspects of the 2016 US presidential elections on social media, from fake news to the alt-right to the drama of election night on Twitter (I’ll be writing about the outcomes of this work in a separate post).
The data sprint is a week-long collaborative event where researchers, graphic designers and programmers work together on research projects that repurpose data from digital platforms for social and cultural research. It is a great way to do research in a multidisciplinary environment, to learn from others as well as to test hypotheses and to pilot studies.
I spoke about some of the most interesting projects from last year’s winter and summer schools in order to give participants a sense of what a good digital methods project looks like and what can be achieved in this collaborative format in one week. Highlighted projects included a study of how Tumblr is used for recovery from illness, an analysis of digitised records of collective action against human rights abuses coordinated by Amnesty International, a study of the feminist politics of stock photography, as well as a critical cartography of the Mediterranean refugee crisis in 2015 as seen through the maps embedded in media coverage of this issue.
Last week the University of Miami organised what might have been the first event dedicated to building bridges between digital humanities and data journalism. There were a lot of great talks. Scott Klein spoke about the culture clash between programmer-journalists and traditional journalists and several digital humanities scholars presented their work, from Geoff McGhee, to Ben Schmidt and Lauren Klein. I’d particularly recommend having a look at Lauren’s work on the cultural and critical dimensions of data visualisation and on feminist data visualisation.
Earlier this month I gave a talk at the “Evidence and the Politics of Policymaking” conference at the University of Bath on some of my PhD research on data journalism. The talk focused on the role that data journalism may play in the reshaping of public information systems by looking at cases where journalists did not just exploit the outputs of information systems but engaged in challenging the techniques of measurement and monitoring embedded in these systems in order to reshape what becomes evidence. Such examples would include the Guardian’s The Counted Project, The Migrants’ Files and Al Jazeera America’s Jim Crow Returns. More examples from journalism and civil society are included in a report by myself and colleagues called Changing What Counts published by Civicus earlier this year.
Later this week Jonathan Gray and I will be giving a talk at the Digital Humanities + Data Journalism Symposium organised by Alberto Cairo at the University of Miami. I have been working in both areas for several years and was very pleased to see organised what I think is the first event dedicated to bringing the two communities together.
The article examines five ways in which networks have been used to tell stories in journalism, from exploring associations around single actors, to detecting key players, mapping alliances and oppositions, exploring the evolution of associations over time, and revealing hidden ties. A list of over 40 journalism projects that use network diagrams or visualisations which we compiled while doing this research has been published with the article and can be accessed on figshare.
Last year I contributed some of my research on data journalism to a report on data collection initiatives by citizens and civil society, called “Changing What Counts: How Can Citizen-Generated and Civil Society Data Be Used as an Advocacy Tool to Change Official Data Collection?”
In recent years establishing own data collection operations has become a powerful journalistic tactic for putting neglected issues on the public agenda and advocating and intervening in official monitoring, measurement and data production practices. I wrote about the importance of own data production in journalism a couple of years ago in an article for the Harvard Business Review. Among these data collection initiatives in journalism, counting operations have emerged as one particularly prominent type of intervention, from counts of drone strikes and their casualties, to migrant and mine worker death counts, and counts of killings by police.
For the “Changing What Counts” report I reviewed two examples, one based in Europe and one in the US, where journalists have successfully set up and conducted death count operations. The report has been published yesterday by Open Knowledge and the CIVICUSDataShift initiative and can be accessed here.
Earlier this month I gave a two-day workshop at the University of Zurich together with Stefania Milan called “Doing social and political research in the digital age.” The workshop was organised by the National Center of Competence in Research: Challenges to Democracy in the 21st Century for a great group of political science PhD students from all over Switzerland.
Below are the slides from the lecture I gave on the first day of the workshop.