THIS BOOK REPRESENTS an account and update from what has been a long intellectual journey for each of us. For well over a decade, we have collected and used data to study, understand, and describe the impact of newly emerging digital communication on society, politics, and democracy. We have not undertaken this journey alone, and this book has benefited from the input and support of countless people along the way.
We would first like to thank Ethan Zuckerman for his decade-long partnership with us to support both the intellectual work of this book and the development of the Media Cloud platform that enabled the core analysis in this book. A decade ago, we began developing the technical infrastructure for the data analysis platform which would eventually take the name Media Cloud. Spurred on by debates within the Berkman Klein Center, where Zuckerman, now Director of the Center for Civic Media at MIT, co-founder and co-Principal Investigator of the Media Cloud project, was a fellow and senior researcher, and across the broader academic community, we sought to develop better tools to empirically study the structure and function of digital media. At that time, the open web was the core of digital communication. Much of our attention was directed at studying the impact of blogs on public discourse while Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube were relatively recent additions to the digital landscape. While we debated whether blogging would democratize media production and strengthen, we set about the many years’ process of building the Media Cloud platform to collect, parse, and analyze digital media.
This book is the result of many months of effort and has only come to be as a result of the generous input of our friends and colleagues from the Berkman Klein Center and beyond. We are especially indebted to our colleagues Nikki Bourassa, Bruce Etling, and Justin Clark, who have made important substantive contributions to this study, supported the overall (p.viii) research enterprise, conducted analysis, gathered data, provided input and feedback on this book, and shaped our understanding of the issues. Kira Tebbe provided crucial assistance in the final editing and production of the book. Rebekah Heacock Jones helped get this research off the ground with research into political discourse on Twitter. Daniel Dennis Jones worked tirelessly in the production and publication of this work. We benefited from the insights and efforts of Zach Wehrwein and Devin Gaffney, who helps us to track and understand the propagation of frames and narratives from Reddit. Brendan Roach and Michael Jasper provided invaluable research assistance. Jonas Kaiser and Paola Villarreal expanded our thinking around methods and interpretation. Alicia Solow-Niederman worked tirelessly to debug early versions of the analytical methods that were used in this book. Urs Gasser and Jonathan Zittrain have extended valuable support that has enabled us to maintain this research for many years. John Palfrey and Colin Maclay provided critical institutional support for Media Cloud in its early stages.
We are grateful to our friends and collaborators at the Center for Civic Media at the MIT Media Lab who have worked with us in the development of the Media Cloud platform and contributed to the applied research it has supported. This work has built upon and fostered an unusually close and productive collaboration between our two academic centers. Rahul Bhargava, Linas Valiukas, and Cindy Bishop have helped to extend and translate the ideas and concepts of a large-scale media analysis platform into the current functionality of the Media Cloud platform upon which this research relied. Fernando Bermejo has been a valuable supporter and contributor to our collective work in this field. Natalie Gyenes and Anushka Shah provided research insights and Media Cloud expertise.
This research has also benefited from contributions of many outside the Berkman Klein community. John Kelly and Vlad Barash provided important insights into the role of social media in the election, leading us to new hypotheses and ideas that shaped the book’s development. Matt Higgins helped lay a firm foundation of thought and hypotheses upon which this work was completed. Philipp Nowak provided valuable early research assistance. Participants of Data & Society’s Propaganda & Media Manipulation Workshop in May 2017 provided valuable feedback and critical cross-examination that helped steer our earlier work toward this final version. We are also indebted to our editors at the Oxford University Press, Alex Flach and Emma Taylor, without whose initiative and support we would not have translated and extended our research into this book.
(p.ix) The research on the post-election period and additional research necessary to understand the institutional foundations we describe here as well as the production of the book benefited from the support of the Ford Foundation and the Ethics and Governance of Artificial Intelligence Fund. The original study of the election period, upon which significant portions of this book are based, was funded by the Open Society Foundations U.S. Programs. This work would not have been feasible without the investments made by a set of funders who have funded Media Cloud development over the years, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the Open Society Foundations.
We are also grateful to those who have invested time and resources into developing open tools and data for public interest research. We drew upon TV Archive data collected and made available by the Internet Archive, and used the tools and interfaces developed and made publicly available by the GDELT Project. Gephi, open source network analysis and visualization software, served as the engine for our network analysis. (p.x)