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Partisanship, Propaganda, and Disinformation: Online Media and the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election

August 16, 2017

In this study, we analyze both mainstream and social media coverage of the 2016 United States presidential election. We document that the majority of mainstream media coverage was negative for both candidates, but largely followed Donald Trump's agenda: when reporting on Hillary Clinton, coverage primarily focused on the various scandals related to the Clinton Foundation and emails. When focused on Trump, major substantive issues, primarily immigration, were prominent. Indeed, immigration emerged as a central issue in the campaign and served as a defining issue for the Trump campaign.

Exploring Russian Cyberspace: Digitally-Mediated Collective Action and the Networked Public Sphere

March 2, 2012

This paper summarizes the major findings of a three-year research project to investigate the Internet's impact on Russian politics, media and society. We employed multiple methods to study online activity: the mapping and study of the structure, communities and content of the blogosphere; an analogous mapping and study of Twitter; content analysis of different media sources using automated and human-based evaluation approaches; and a survey of bloggers; augmented by infrastructure mapping, interviews and background research. We find the emergence of a vibrant and diverse networked public sphere that constitutes an independent alternative to the more tightly controlled offline media and political space, as well as the growing use of digital platforms in social mobilization and civic action. Despite various indirect efforts to shape cyberspace into an environment that is friendlier towards the government, we find that the Russian Internet remains generally open and free, although the current degree of Internet freedom is in no way a prediction of the future of this contested space.

Media Access and Policy

The Evolving Landscape of Internet Control

August 1, 2011

Over the past two years, we have undertaken several studies at the Berkman Center designed to better understand the control of the Internet in less open societies. During the years we've been engaged in this research, we have seen many incidents that have highlighted the continuing role of the Internet as a battleground for political control, including partial or total Internet shutdowns in China, Iran, Egypt, Libya, and Syria; many hundreds of documented DDoS, hacking, and other cyber attacks against political sites; continued growth in the number of countries that filter the Internet; and dozens of well documented cases of on- and offline persecution of online dissidents. The energy dedicated to these battles for control of the Internet on both the government and dissident sides indicated, if nothing else, that both sides think that the Internet is a critical space for political action. In this paper, we offer an overview of our research in the context of these changes in the methods used to control online speech, and some thoughts on the challenges to online speech in the immediate future.

Media Access and Policy

Online Security in the Middle East and North Africa: A Survey of Perceptions, Knowledge, and Practice

August 1, 2011

Digital communication has become a more perilous activity, particularly for activists, political dissidents, and independent media. The recent surge in digital activism that has helped to shape the Arab spring has been met with stiff resistance by governments in the region intent on reducing the impact of digital organizing and independent media. No longer content with Internet filtering, many governments in the Middle East and around the world are using a variety of technological and offline strategies to go after online media and digital activists. In Tunisia, before and during the January 2011 protest movement that led to a change in government there, Internet service providers were apparently logging usernames and passwords to hack into and dismantle online organizing and information sharing among protesters. In early June 2011, Google reported a phishing attack targeted at military and human rights activists to gain access to their Gmail accounts. In Syria, a well organized effort known as the Syrian Electronic Army has been carrying out attacks to disable and compromise web sites that are critical of the Syrian regime. These stories are only a few selected from the set that have become public, and an unknown number of attacks go unnoticed and unreported. Many of these attacks are impossible to attribute to specific actors and may involve a mix of private sector and governmental actors, blurring the lines between cyber attacks and government surveillance. In such an environment, maintaining online security is a growing challenge.In this report we describe the results of a survey of 98 bloggers in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) carried out in May 2011 in order to study bloggers' perceptions of online risk and the actions they take to address digital communications security, including both Internet and cell phone use. The survey was implemented in the wake of the Arab spring and documents a proliferation of online security problems among the respondents. In the survey, we address the respondents' perceptions of online risk, their knowledge of digital security practices, and their reported online security practices. The survey results indicate that there is much room for improving online security practices, even among this sample of respondents who are likely to have relatively high technical knowledge and experience.

Media Access and Policy; Media Platforms

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