We’ve launched what we’re calling the “Truthiness Collaborative” to advance research and engagement around the misinformation, disinformation, propaganda and other challenges to discourse fueled by our evolving media and technology ecosystem. As the abundance and fractiousness of the networked media environment envelops public and private life and creates profound risks for individuals, institutions and democracy, boundaries are blurring; technology, processes and practices are failing; norms and roles are in question; and regulation is more complicated than ever. Real and lasting harms are growing, which collectively we will be hard-pressed to staunch, let alone undo. The future is only more grave unless we better understand these interactions and develop informed approaches to making media and technology work for, not against, us.
Some areas we’re investigating within the collaborative include: (background resources linked)
Old Forces and New Dynamics Create Wicked Problems
Disinformation, emerging technologies, polarization, and challenges in journalism and other phenomena fueling our challenges are not new, but in our current socio-technical environment, the interactions among them are novel and powerful. Beyond each element’s own dynamics, they comprise a complex system, which requires us to understand both the perceived problems and potential responses in relationship to each other.
How Platforms Change… and Change Us
Everything from personal relationships and labor markets to political contests and social justice movements are organized on and by social media platforms. What priorities guide what Tarleton Gillespie calls “Custodians of the Internet”? How do they evolve? And what power do they have over society and democracy?
Out of Context & Out of Control
While much public attention has focused on news and politics, the problem space is more complex. From algorithmic decisions that reflect society’s existing ills, to disinformation campaigns designed to impact social institutions, social inequities are being magnified. Economic mobility, data infrastructures, self-expression and control over representation are undermined, with at-risk populations facing the greatest challenges.
Recognizing and Addressing the Limitations of Practical Interventions
An array of interventions, which have been powered by commitment, creativity, and investment, are showing promise and facing barriers, including speed, scale, sustainability, complexity, collaboration and more. If there is no silver bullet, what does silver buckshot look like and how does it relate to sectoral collaboration, human idiosyncrasies and systemic approaches?
Research-Industry Relationships and Data Diversity
Much attention — and tension — around understanding the power of technology companies has centered on accessing, analyzing, and tracing the significance of quantitative data. While such data tell a key part of the story, they are also complicated and contingent products of human culture and practices. How can we tell more nuanced stories about technology companies and data-drenched societies through long-standing traditions of critical ethnography, science and technology studies, and value-driven design?
Policy Interventions and Considerations
After years of modest public policy progress with little likelihood of new regulation, Europe and countries around the world are creating and considering legislation with unclear implications — and little consideration of interdependencies and unintended consequences. Watchdogs and multi-stakeholder efforts suggest possibilities, while companies also look for new approaches. In this discussion, we will discuss what policy interventions are possible, what’s been proposed so far (both the US and internationally), and what we think will ultimately work.
Agenda and Infrastructures for Discovery and Engagement
While we have made significant progress in documenting and understanding elements of our media ecosystems, there remain far more questions than answers spanning dimensions of scale, impact, medium and much more. As we consider interventions, insights that are of high quality and timely are paramount, and because the dynamics will continue to shift over time, our questions, methods and supports must anticipate that. What are the cross-cutting research questions in this field? What data and tools do we need? What do we need to build so these questions become answerable?