THE KENNEDY SCHOOL’S Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy reflects the School’s digital-era transformation. The center has broadened its focus well beyond legacy newspapers and broadcasters to take on research projects on digital-heavy subjects, such as how news media should handle disinformation and how to document the impact of digital technology on users. Shorenstein Center Director Nancy Gibbs, the Visiting Edward R. Murrow Professor of Practice, is focused on addressing the digital changes roiling the media world and assessing strategic policy options that protect democratic values.
One focal point is online misinformation. Matthew Baum, the Marvin Kalb Professor of Global Communications, says the first step in addressing misinformation should be evidence-based research on the impact of false or misleading information on users. Among his investigations is a project gauging the effects on people in several countries who use digital communication tools such as WhatsApp. Another research project will study the influence that both fact-checked and non-fact-checked information have on people’s political views “because you have to know the dogs that didn’t bark as well as the ones that do,” says Baum.
In addition, Baum and Shorenstein Center post-doctoral fellow Irene Pasquetto are overseeing the creation of a new journal called The Misinformation Review, which will vastly speed up the typical time lag in publishing peer-reviewed research from more than a year to just a month or two. The journal’s design is in part a response to the pace of digital innovation so that peer-reviewed findings will reach the field while still relevant for policy debates. The Misinformation Review is convening a conference for researchers in October.
Gibbs is also working with lead researcher Joan Donovan on the Technology and Social Change Research Project, which has set out to compile 100 case studies on media manipulation and to train 100 researchers at a dozen universities over the next three years to focus on the field of “critical internet studies.” Donovan is creating methodological standards for the case studies on media manipulation to distinguish malicious campaigns from legitimate social media advocacy. “We don’t yet have methods that help us find and measure what we’re looking at,” Donovan says. “We’re really trying to get a very robust, transdisciplinary field together.”
Photos by Raychel Casey, Jessica Scranton, Martha Stewart