REPORT: Blame for disinformation falls upon mainstream media

Megaphone by Ashley Adcox, licence CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Were it not for the logic of mainstream media, disinformation spreading and media manipulating “far right” groups would have remained in the margins, Alice Marwick and Rebecca Lewis, both of Data & Society Research Institute, write. A recent report by the Institute reviews the online world of “conspiracy theorists, techno-libertarians, white nationalists, Men’s Rights advocates, trolls, anti-feminists, anti-immigration activists, and bored young people”.

Aside from cataloging the various groups of online media manipulators, Marwick and Lewis look at their tactics, the contextual reasons to their success, and the effects of their rise. The groups use many different techniques, which fall on fertile soil in the contemporary media landscape – especially in the United States.

Local investigative news and trust towards journalism are both in decline, and the logic of “attention economy” has left newsrooms starved for outrage-inducing topics. All this makes mainstream media susceptible to, for example, viral hoaxes. The aforementioned groups and their ideologies are not new, Marwick and Lewis remind, but their influence has grown in current, opportune conditions.

Unfortunately, internet trolls and other media manipulators will only exacerbate the mainstream media’s woes: they spread more misinformation, undermine trust towards journalism, and further radicalize some segments of the society, the authors warn.

The report “Media Manipulation and Disinformation Online” is available in its entirety on the Data & Society Research Institute’s website (open access).

Picture: Megaphone by Ashley Adcox, licence CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

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