Talk on Fake News in Digital Culture at the 2017 Institute for Policy Research Symposium

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.

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Launch of A Field Guide to Fake News at the International Journalism Festival in Italy

Today saw the launch of A Field Guide to Fake News, a set of methodological recipes to explore the production, circulation and reception of fake news online. The field guide is the first project of the Public Data Lab, a new network of researchers working to facilitate research, engagement and public debate around the future of the data society. Claire Wardle of First Draft has been very supportive of the project from the very beginning and the field guide is produced in collaboration with First Draft

The project was born out of an interest in “post-truth” politics and the rise of debates around fake news in relation to the US elections. The project is the result of a three-month collaboration between over 60 researchers, graduates and students at several universities in Europe through a series of “data sprints”. The data sprint is a short-form hands-on working format that convenes for a week participants from different backgrounds, including new media researchers, designers and issue experts, to collaborate around research projects. So far we’ve had sprints in Amsterdam, London, Copenhagen and Milan. We used this process to allow us to produce research that can respond in a timely way to a rapidly evolving phenomenon – as well as involving journalists, civil society groups, public institutions and others in the rapid co-production of research methods which speak to their interests and needs – while in the process challenging and enriching all of our different ways of seeing the issue.

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Nieman Lab Article on Fake News in the Digital Age

Nieman Lab published today an article that Jonathan Gray, Tommaso Venturini and I wrote about fake news in the digital age. In this article we argue that fake news encapsulates key aspects of our digital environments and cultures and hence that it can be taken as an opportunity to learn not just about misinformation but, more importantly for us as new media researchers, about the digital arrangements that make such phenomena possible.

The article discusses some insights from A Field Guide to Fake News, a collection of recipes for tracing the production, circulation and reception of fake news online which will be launched at the International Journalism Festival in Perugia tomorrow.

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Collaboration with BuzzFeed News on Article about Ad Networks Used by Fake News Sites

Today BuzzFeed News published an article inspired by one of the recipes in our upcoming A Field Guide to Fake News, to be launched at the International Journalism Festival in Perugia later this week. The article investigates how fake news publishers have adapted to being blacklisted from major ad networks last year. I contributed some research and analysis to compare the presence of trackers on a set of fake news sites in March 2017 and prior to November 2016 by using the Tracker Tracker tool maintained by the Digital Methods Initiative. It has been a pleasure to work with Craig Silverman and Lam Thuy Vo and hope I’ll get a chance to work with them again in the future.

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Talk on Fake News, Algorithmic Accountability and the Role of Data Journalism in the Post-Truth Era at the University of Cambridge

Earlier this month I was pleased to receive an invitation from the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH) at the University of Cambridge to contribute to a workshop called ‘How Can Public Interest Journalism Hold Algorithms to Account?’

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.

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Call for Collaborators: “A Field Guide to Fake News”

We’re pleased to announce a new project to create “A Field Guide to Fake News”, led by myself, Jonathan Gray and Tommaso Venturini. It will be launched at the International Journalism Festival in Perugia in April 2017.

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.

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Doing Digital Methods – Talk at Digital Methods Winter School 2017

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.

The slides from the talk are below.

What can Data Journalists and Digital Humanists Learn from Each Other?

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.

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Talk on Doing Social and Political Research with Digital Methods

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.

GitHub as Transparency Device in Data Journalism, Open Data and Data Activism

At this year’s Digital Methods Summer School I am coordinating a research project on how journalists use GitHub, together with Jonathan Gray and Stefania Milan. This is part of a broader research collaboration with Erik Borra and Richard Rogers from the Digital Methods Initiative to expand the digital methods repertoire by developing tools and techniques for using code sharing platforms as sources of data for social, political and cultural research.

In the context of journalism GitHub has become an increasingly important platform in the data journalist’s toolkit. In spite of this, not much research has been done so far to understand how journalists use GitHub and how the platform is reconfiguring journalistic practises.

Below are the slides from the talk which introduced the project earlier in the week. Over the coming months I will be working to produce a research report on uses and users of GitHub in the context of journalism. In a second phase the study will be extended to examining the role of code sharing platforms such as GitHub in data activism and open data.

This project is part of a broader research agenda looking at how approaches from digital social research, at the confluence between Internet Studies, Actor-Network Theory and Science and Technology Studies (STS), can be used to study journalism and news production in an age of big data.