Cameron Hickey: Identifying and Monitoring Disinformation across Social Platforms: Techniques for Discovery and Analysis


Monday, September 24, 2018, 12:00pm to 1:15pm


Maxwell Dworkin 119

Identifying and Monitoring Disinformation across Social Platforms: Techniques for Discovery and Analysis

The dominant social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube) have become critical vectors in the spread of mis- and disinformation impacting political discourse. As the platforms develop policies and technology to police their networks, they face a variety of challenges: the risk of perceived political bias, outcry over the potential for censorship, adaptive adversaries, and a previously inconceivable scale of content to monitor and evaluate. This problem is exacerbated by the growth of fringe networks where problematic content and coordinated disinformation campaigns are developed, and the increasing use of closed messaging networks such as Whatsapp and Telegram where disinformation can spread between trusted parties with no outside monitoring. Journalists and researchers focused on assessing and mitigating this phenomenon need effective tools designed around the behavior of the producers and consumers of problematic content. The Information Disorder Lab at Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy is developing tools and techniques to monitor and investigate disinformation across public, fringe, and closed networks. We combine existing social monitoring and open-source intelligence gathering tools with a custom suite of identification and monitoring applications to find and assess problematic content. In this talk, I will present a detailed outline of the context for this research; challenges we face investigating problematic content; the specific techniques we have developed to optimize content discovery; and a set of use cases explaining the different forms that mis- and disinformation can take.

Cameron Hickey is the Technology Manager at the Information Disorder Lab (IDLab) at the Shorenstein Center. He is an Emmy Award-winning journalist who has reported on science and technology for the PBS NewsHour and NOVA, and covered political, social, and economic issues for many outlets including The New York Times, American Experience, Al Jazeera, and Bill Moyers. Hickey was awarded a 2017 Knight Foundation Prototype grant to develop a tool called NewsTracker to identify and track sources of misinformation on social media. The tool provided the foundational research for a four-part investigation into misinformation that aired on the PBS NewsHour. At the IDLab, he leads the development of technologies used to identify, track, analyze and report on mis- and disinformation.