In late 2017, Twitter and Facebook revealed that agents backed by the Russian government had infiltrated American political conversations for years. Posing as concerned citizens from across the ideological spectrum, these agents surreptitiously spread propaganda disguised as home-grown political chatter. Two challenges, one theoretical and the other methodological, confront researchers interested in studying this campaign of information warfare. First, the fields of communication and political science offer little theoretical guidance about how to study such tactics, which are known as influence operations in military studies and dezinformatsiya in Russian and Slavic studies. Second, Twitter and Facebook removed all such propagandistic content from public view upon confirming their existence, which makes obtaining the data difficult (but not impossible). In this talk, the University of North Carolina’s Deen Freelon explains how he and his collaborators are addressing these challenges and present key preliminary findings from their ongoing project focused on this campaign.
Deen Freelon is an associate professor in the School of Media and Journalism. His research covers two major areas of scholarship: 1) political expression through digital media and 2) data science and computational methods for analyzing large digital datasets. He has authored or co-authored more than 30 journal articles, book chapters and public reports, in addition to co-editing one scholarly book. He has served as principal investigator on grants from the Knight Foundation, the Spencer Foundation and the U.S. Institute of Peace. He has written research-grade software to calculate intercoder reliability for content analysis (ReCal), analyze large-scale network data from social media (TSM), and collect data from Facebook (fb_scrape_public). He formerly taught at American University in Washington, D.C.