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Alternative News Networks

Alternative News Networks

Overview

We live in an era of extraordinary polarization, with western societies becoming more and more divided across political lines and cleavages. Individuals of different political background consume different news sources, live in different areas, and work in different professions. They are sometimes sceptical of the idea of marrying people from a different background, or welcoming them into their family.

What is driving these changes? Some researchers have started to connect these broad developments in societal polarization to the emergence of a new type of online only media source that produces divisive and inflammatory news reporting. These outlets, which seem to be especially successful at gaining traction on social media, have only just begun to attract academic attention, and much more remains to be done understanding how they operate, how they reach people, and how exposure to their content has an impact on individuals.

This project seeks to fill this research gap. Based on a combination of the latest data science techniques, the latest qualitative research into the nature of divisive sources in four widely spoken UK languages (English, Hindi, Punjabi and Polish), and supported by a social scraping architecture which allows us to track their reach and spread on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit and YouTube (whilst protecting the privacy and anonymity of the people interacting with the stories), we will seek to answer the following major questions:

  • How important are producers of divisive news content in the UK online information ecosystem?
  • How do their stories and narratives spread?
  • How do domestic outlets and foreign state-sponsored entities differ in their strategies and tactics to disseminate divisive news content?
  • What impact does exposure to divisive political content and disinformation have on the people consuming it?

The outputs of the project will be a mixture of practitioner friendly reports and academic journal publications.

Key Information

Funders:
  • Omidyar Network
  • UK Government
  • The Oxford Martin School
  • Project dates:
    December 2019 - September 2021

    Major Areas of Research

    Covid-19

    The global pandemic has brought to the fore the pressing problems caused by disinformation, leading many scholars to study the “infodemic” that is accompanying and exacerbating the public health crisis. Disinformation about the virus has already led to serious health repercussions in countries around the world. Our research on COVID-related disinformation looks at the prominence of stories by junk news outlets and state-backed media outlets on social media. ComProp researchers are also investigating the systems that help these junk news stories to succeed: from the online advertising ecosystem to incentives on social media platforms.

    Elections

    The tools of computational propaganda are often deployed around elections, as various actors seek to sway public opinion through legitimate and illegitimate means. Our research on disinformation and elections looks at information-sharing on social media​ by members of the electorate, foreign influence campaigns, and the role of these campaigns in political polarization. We have conducted research on elections in Europe, North America, South America, the Middle East, and Asia.

    Tech Platforms and Governance

    Our team is interested not only in the content of disinformation but also in the technologies and systems that shape the information landscape. To this end, our research examines the various forces constraining and enabling computational propaganda: how tech companies incentivise and amplify problematic content, how governments seek to regulate these companies, and how tech platforms themselves are responding.

    State Sponsored Disinformation

    The tools of computational propaganda are increasingly deployed by states to shape public opinion, sow distrust, and create confusion both at home and abroad. Our research on state-sponsored disinformation looks at the proliferation of “cyber troops” in countries around the world, the reach and contents of state-sponsored media outlets, and the impacts of foreign influence operations.

    Participants

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    Karolina Werens

    Project role: Researcher

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