An Ecological Approach to Disinformation Spread on Social Media

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Abstract

Much disinformation research focuses on how social media facilitates the spread of deliberately inaccurate information. However, Americans consume news from many sources and encounter stories across information channels. Thus, studies that examine only social media or a single platform miss the full ecology of news consumption. This project takes a mixed-methods approach to the origins and dynamics of disinformation, including stories that “jump” between media formats and sources. Comparing apolitical, right-wing, and left-wing case studies, we will analyze differences in how stories spread across media. Using auxiliary Twitter and Reddit datasets, news media data from Media Cloud, and Facebook’s political advertising archive, we will examine how and when stories appear on other platforms, in political ads, and in mainstream media, enabling us to analyze Facebook as part of a broader media ecology and determine the comparative role of media sources in spreading disinformation.

Research Team

Principal Investigators

Alice E. Marwick

Assistant Professor, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

  • Bio ▾

    Alice E. Marwick is an assistant professor in the Department of Communication and Principal Researcher at the Center for Information, Technology and Public Life at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She researches the social, political, and cultural implications of popular social media technologies. In 2017, she coauthored Media Manipulation and Disinformation Online, a flagship report examining far-right online subcultures’ use of social media to spread disinformation, for which she was named one of 2017’s Global Thinkers by Foreign Policy magazine. She is the author of Status Update: Celebrity, Publicity and Branding in the Social Media Age (Yale University Press, 2013), an ethnographic study of the San Francisco tech scene that examines how people seek social status through online visibility, and coeditor of The Sage Handbook of Social Media (Sage Publishing, 2017). Her current book project, The Private Is Political, examines how the networked nature of online privacy and visibility disproportionately impacts marginalized individuals in terms of gender, race, and socioeconomic status.

Deen Freelon

Associate Professor, School of Media and Journalism, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

  • Bio ▾

    Deen Freelon is an associate professor in the Hussman School of Journalism and Media and Principal Researcher at the Center for Information, Technology and Public Life at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His research covers two major areas of scholarship: (1) political expression through digital media and (2) data science and computational methods for analyzing large digital datasets. He has authored or coauthored more than 30 journal articles, book chapters, and public reports, in addition to coediting one scholarly book. He has served as principal investigator on grants from the Knight Foundation, the Spencer Foundation, and the US Institute of Peace. He has written research-grade software to calculate intercoder reliability for content analysis (ReCal), analyze large-scale network data from social media (TSM), and collect data from Facebook (fb_scrape_public). He formerly taught at American University in Washington, DC.

Participants

Daniel Kreiss

Associate Professor, School of Media and Journalism, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

  • Bio ▾

    Daniel Kreiss is associate professor in the Hussman School of Journalism and Media and Principal Researcher at the Center for Information, Technology and Public Life at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Kreiss’s research explores the impact of technological change on the public sphere and political practice. In Taking Our Country Back: The Crafting of Networked Politics from Howard Dean to Barack Obama (Oxford University Press, 2012), Kreiss presents the history of new media and Democratic Party political campaigning over the last decade. Prototype Politics: Technology-Intensive Campaigning and the Data of Democracy (Oxford University Press, 2016) charts the emergence of a data-driven, personalized, and socially embedded form of campaigning and explains differences in technological adoption between the two US political parties. Kreiss is an affiliated fellow of the Information Society Project at Yale Law School.

Shannon C. McGregor

Assistant Professor, Department of Communication, University of Utah

  • Bio ▾

    Shannon C. McGregor is an assistant professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Utah. McGregor's research addresses the role of social media and its data in political processes, with a focus on political communication, journalism, public opinion, and gender. Her published work examines how three groups—political actors, the press, and the public—use social media in regards to politics, how that social media use impacts their behavior, and how the policies and actions of social media companies in turn impact political communication on their sites. Her work has been published in journals such as the Journal of Communication, New Media & Society, Political Communication, Journalism, and Information, Communication & Society, and she is the coeditor of a book (with Dr. Talia Stroud), Digital Discussions: How Big Data Informs Political Communication. More information about her work can be found at www.shannoncmcgregor.com.

Megan Squire

Professor of Computing Sciences, Elon University

  • Bio ▾

    Megan Squire is a professor in the Department of Computer Science at Elon University in North Carolina. She applies data science techniques to the study of niche and extremist online communities, specializing in the creation of infrastructure to collect, curate, and federate large amounts of metadata, textual data, and image data. Her recent projects include network analysis of radical right extremist groups on social media, including Facebook and other sites. Squire is the author of two books on data cleaning and data mining and over 35 peer-reviewed articles and book chapters, including several best paper awards. She has earned nearly $500,000 in external competitive grant funding from the National Science Foundation, the Computing Research Association, and in-kind equipment and computing time donations from industry partners. In 2017, she was named the Elon University Distinguished Scholar, and in 2018 she was named a senior fellow at the Center for Analysis of the Radical Right.

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