Former Research Assistant
Samantha left the OII to become Assistant Professor at American University. She specialises in computational propaganda, social media and democracy, human rights, and Internet policy
The new report ‘The Global Disinformation Order: 2019 Global Inventory of Organised Social Media Manipulation’, co-authored by Professor Philip Howard, Director of the Oxford Internet Institute (OII), and Samantha Bradshaw, Researcher at the OII, is the only regular inventory of its kind to look at the use of algorithms, automation and big data to shape public life.
The report explores the tools, capacities, strategies and resources employed by global ‘cyber troops’, typically government agencies and political parties, to influence public opinion in 70 countries.
Key findings include:
Professor Philip Howard, Director of the Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford said:
“The manipulation of public opinion over social media remains a critical threat to democracy, as computational propaganda becomes a pervasive part of everyday life. Government agencies and political parties around the world are using social media to spread disinformation and other forms of manipulated media. Although propaganda has always been a part of politics, the wide-ranging scope of these campaigns raises critical concerns for modern democracy.”
Samantha Bradshaw, Lead author of the report and Researcher, Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford said:
“The affordances of social networking technologies – algorithms, automation and big data – vastly changes the scale, scope, and precision of how information is transmitted in the digital age. Although social media was once heralded as a force for freedom and democracy, it has increasingly come under scrutiny for its role in amplifying disinformation, inciting violence, and lowering trust in the media and democratic institutions.”
The report explores the tools and techniques of computational propaganda, including the use of fake accounts – bots, humans, cyborgs and hacked accounts – to spread disinformation. The report finds:
In addition, Oxford researchers examine how cyber troops use different communication strategies to manipulate public opinion, such as creating disinformation, mass-reporting content or accounts, and employing abusive strategies such as trolling, doxing, or harassment. The report finds:
Professor Howard adds;
“A strong democracy requires access to high quality information and an ability for citizens to come together to debate, discuss, deliberate, empathise and make concessions. Although there are an increasing number of government actors turning to social media to influence public attitudes and disrupt elections, we remain optimistic that social media can be a force for good creating a space for public deliberation and democracy to flourish.”
The 2019 report draws upon a four-step methodology employed by Oxford researchers to identify evidence of globally organised manipulation campaigns. This includes a systematic content analysis of news articles on cyber troop activity, a secondary literature review of public archives and scientific reports, generating country specific case studies and expert consultations. The research work was carried out by Oxford researchers between 2018-2019.
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Computational Propaganda project research studies are published at DemTech.