Reports and Public Scholarship

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News and Information over Facebook and WhatsApp during the Indian Election Campaign

13 May 2019

Working Papers & Data Memos

Social media platforms have become an important source of political news and information for voters in India’s national election. To evaluate the quality of sources and images being shared, we examine the patterns of content circulation on Facebook and WhatsApp with a large sample of data collected over a two month period in advance of the elections. We find that (1) more than a quarter of the content shared by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and a fifth of the content shared by the Indian National Congress (INC) is junk news, while the Samajwadi and Bahujan Samaj Party (SP-BSP) shares very little sensational, extremist, or conspiratorial content. (2) For visual content being shared in our sample of WhatsApp groups, a third of the BJP’s images, a quarter of the INC’s images, and a tenth the SP-BSP’s images were catalogued as divisive and conspiratorial. Comparing the platforms, we find that (3) misinformation on WhatsApp primarily takes the form of visual content, while misinformation on Facebook involves links to sensational, extremist, and conspiratorial news sites and visual content. On a positive note, (4) we observed very limited amounts of hate speech, gore or pornography in either platform samples. Yet in comparison with other recent international elections, (5) the proportion of polarizing political news and information in circulation over social media in India is worse than all of the other country case studies we have analysed, except the US Presidential election in 2016...

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Iranian Digital Interference in the Arab World

3 April 2019

Working Papers & Data Memos

Iranian interference in the politics of Arab countries has become more self-evident since the Arab Spring of 2011. Iran has been trying to widen its influence in the region in a political confrontation with Saudi Arabia. In October 2018, Twitter released 770 accounts with potential Iranian origins. In this study, we examine Arabic-language tweets from these 770 accounts linked to Iran. We find that: (1) Arabic is the third most used language in the Iranian data set; (2) Arabic tweets were not aiming to socially engage with other Arab users but rather to promote certain websites, and more than 69% of the links are to pro-Iran Arabic-language news websites; (3) the most widely shared websites extracted from Arabic tweets in our data set push an Iranian political narrative, including criticism of Saudi Arabia and support of the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad...

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Polarisation and the use of technology in political campaigns and communication

11 March 2019

Working Papers & Data Memos

This report offers a comprehensive overview of the relationship between technology, democracy and the polarisation of public discourse. Technology is inherently political, and the ways in which it is designed and used have ongoing implications for participation, deliberation, and democracy. Algorithms, automation, big data analytics and artificial intelligence are becoming increasingly embedded in everyday life in democratic societies; this report provides an in-depth analysis of the technological affordances that enhance and undermine political decision-making, both now and in the future. To conclude, we formulate principles and policy options for fostering a better relationship between digital technology and public life...

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Climate Change Consensus and Skepticism: Mapping Climate Change Dialogue on Twitter and Facebook

28 November 2018

Working Papers & Data Memos

Concerns are growing about the polarization of the climate change debate. Despite broad consensus among scientists that climate change is both occurring and anthropogenic, a vocal movement expresses skepticism about the validity of the scientific consensus. In this data memo, we analyze the climate change dialogue and news shared over Twitter and Facebook. We find that (1) most of the content and commentary shared on both platforms espouses the scientific consensus; (2) the greatest share of content on Twitter (33%) and Facebook (49%) comes from professional news sources; (3) businesses drive a lot of the conversation on Twitter, while civil society content gets more traction on Facebook; (4) audiovisual content like YouTube videos plays an important part in polarizing and conspiracy content; (5) on Facebook, accounts promoting skepticism seem significantly less integrated with the broader community than consensus accounts; and (6) there is little evidence of automated tweeting...

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