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Social Media, Political Polarization, and Political Disinformation: A Review of the Scientific Literature

March 19, 2018

This report provides an overview of the current state of the literature on the relationship between social media; political polarization; and political "disinformation," a term used to encompass a wide range of types of information about politics found online, including "fake news," rumors, deliberately factually incorrect information, inadvertently factually incorrect information, politically slanted information, and "hyperpartisan" news.

Analysis of Philanthropic Opportunities to Mitigate the Disinformation/Propaganda Problem

November 2, 2017

While the problems of disinformation, misinformation and propaganda are not new, certain aspects of modern technology and communications appear to be contributing to a rapid polarization and democratic deterioration in the U.S. and abroad. The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation's Madison Initiative focuses on making democracy and its institutions — especially Congress — more effective in a polarized age, and is currently exploring opportunities to address the disinformation/propaganda problem. An analysis conducted in 2017 for the initiative explores whether a larger, more sustained investment from the foundation is warranted.To examine the problem and potential philanthropic interventions, researchers conducted interviews with leaders from academia, digital media platforms (both current and former employees), think tanks, and civil society organizations. Informants identify many actors seeking solutions to the current disinformation/propaganda problem, with most funders focused on improving the quality of journalism, fact-checking, or news literacy.They identify several elements germane to understanding the problem, including:the democratization of information creation and distribution;the socialization of information sharing;the atomization of news away from reputable brands to individuals;the anonymity of content creators and distributors;the increasing level of content personalization; andThe sovereignty of the technology platforms.All of these factors combine to elevate the internet and, in particular, social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, increasingly Instagram, and others) as the most critical point for intervention. The authors outline options for investing in a research agenda related to popular social platforms, where lack of information about the problem, how technology impacts it, and the efficacy of proposed solution creates a hurdle to crafting effective interventions.

Today's Washington Press Corps More Digital, Specialized

December 3, 2015

The findings of this content analysis reveal that coverage by D.C.-based reporters stays more closely tethered to the institution and work of Congress than other reporting in the papers studied, usually with direct quotes from members of Congress. But there are also signs that these reporters are often Beltway-focused, with a tendency to keep the emphasis of the stories aimed at the government and in a way that does not tie the significance of the news back to the local community. But perhaps of more importance to the reader overall is that of all the coverage about federal government appearing in these papers, the portion that comes from D.C. based-reporters accounts for less than 10%. Instead, the greatest portion of federal government coverage by far comes from wire service stories.

Political Polarization & Media Habits

October 21, 2014

When it comes to getting news about politics and government, those with consistent liberal or conservative views have information streams that are distinct from individuals with mixed political views -- and very distinct from each other, according to a report by the Pew Research Center. The MacArthur-supported research examines the media habits of those at the furthest left and right of the political spectrum, who together comprise about 20 percent of the American public. It finds consistent conservatives tend to trust and rely on a single news source more than others: Fox News. Conservatives are also more likely to distrust other news sources, and more likely to have friends who share their own political views. Consistent liberals, by contrast, rely on a greater range of news outlets, tend to trust more news outlets, and are more likely to block someone on a social network -- as well as end a friendship -- because of politics.

Moving Beyond the Money: News Coverage That Conveys a Broader Vision of Foundations

May 19, 2010

Presents a case study of the Ford Foundation's success in framing the launch of an initiative as more than a transactional news item and communicating its risk-taking and innovative approach. Identifies media relations strategies and ripple effects.

WGBH's Teachers' Domain Rights Assessment

August 17, 2006

This rights assessment evaluates the feasibility of converting the contents of WGBH's free online educational resource collection Teachers' Domain (http://www.teachersdomain.org) to open content status. It employs a two-pronged approach -- (1) categorizing and determining licensing costs for the website's already-existing media assets, and (2) researching and identifying challenges and solutions to licensing issues.For this report, WGBH identified all of the media assets and elements (the pieces that comprise a given asset) within the Teachers' Domain science collections, researched the rights holders and licensing agreements associated with each one, and created a classification system to identify rights status. This made it possible to determine the action necessary to shift each asset toward open content status, and to estimate the associated costs (if any). This research also mapped the potential difficulties and the opportunities for progress in this area.

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