This project seeks to understand the health of the UK online information ecosystem, including tracking the spread of divisive and misleading content.

Overview

We live in an era of extraordinary polarization, with western societies becoming more and more divided across political lines and cleavages. Individuals of different political background consume different news sources, live in different areas, and work in different professions. They are sometimes sceptical of the idea of marrying people from a different background, or welcoming them into their family.

What is driving these changes? Some researchers have started to connect these broad developments in societal polarization to the emergence of a new type of online only media source that produces divisive and inflammatory news reporting. These outlets, which seem to be especially successful at gaining traction on social media, have only just begun to attract academic attention, and much more remains to be done understanding how they operate, how they reach people, and what effect exposure to their content has on individuals.

This project seeks to fill this research gap. Based on a mix of the latest data science techniques and the latest qualitative research into the nature of divisive sources in four widely spoken UK languages (English, Hindi, Punjabi and Polish), and supported by a social scraping architecture which allows us to track their reach and spread on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit and YouTube (whilst protecting the privacy and anonymity of the people interacting with the stories), we will seek to answer the following major questions:

  • How important are producers of divisive news content in the UK online information ecosystem?
  • How do their stories and narratives spread?
  • How do domestic outlets and foreign state-sponsored entities differ in their strategies and tactics to disseminate divisive news content?
  • What impact does exposure to divisive political content and disinformation have on the people consuming it?

The outputs of the project will be a mixture of practitioner friendly reports and academic journal publications.

People