Networked Disinformation

In addition to pursuing publication of Algorithmic Architects, I’m starting work on a second project organized around using civic education to contest networked disinformation. So far I'm calling the project "Contesting Networked Disinformation Through Civic Education." The project builds from two publications I am currently working on:

“Theorizing Network Bias and Teaching Mêtic Invention in Online Search” is currently under review. This essay lays out “network bias,” which describes the various layers and processes through which bias circulates in search environments like Google. The essay offers theoretical insights and pedagogical perspectives to help students navigate bias-laden digital environments.

“On Shifting the Stasis of Online Argument,” co-authored with Michael Steudeman, begins from the observation that argumentation and deliberation in online environments often are of poor quality. On the other hand, we contend that deliberation can be improved by teaching rhetorical and argumentation theories, devising strategies for deploying them on social networks, and helping students practice their deliberative skills.

My next large-scale project shares much in common with these smaller essays. In it, I will use theoretical and textual critiques to explore how the rich textual messages of disinformation schemes spread through digital environments. Taking a humanistic approach rather than a computational approach, this project will help scholars understand how people experience and contest disinformation online. Importantly, the project will also offer pedagogical and practical methods for helping citizens combat disinformation schemes. Drawing on argumentation theory, rhetoric, and critical information studies, the project will provide a multi-pronged approach for critical literacy and civic engagement in digital systems.

Tentatively, I plan to analyze and address disinformation in three different processes:

First, the project will critique frames of “fake news,” studying how accusations of media bias and outlet reputation are used to dismiss ideas and arguments without engaging substantively. This section will work to cultivate a civic frame for dealing with news and information bias, helping citizens engage substantively and effectively with problematic news reports.

Second, I will investigate how the specter of social media bots looms over public discourse. This component of the project will analyze the ways people engage with what they deem to be bots, asking how we might more productively challenge automated activity. This section of the project will offer argumentative strategies for engaging with bots, also considering how reporting tools can be leveraged to combat automated disinformation.

The final component of the project will address image and video manipulation, particularly dwelling on the developing problem of “deepfakes.” I will study how people levy accusations of image and video manipulation, also considering how the pervasiveness of manipulated content erodes shared textual trust. In response, this section will offer pragmatic strategies for identifying patterns of manipulation as well as methods for shifting stasis to more productive argumentative topics.

In total, this project will combine my expertise in digital media and information with my teaching and research experience in argumentation, debate, and democratic deliberation. I’m excited to continue this work as a postdoc at Penn State and in future positions elsewhere.