Curat­ed Real­i­ties on Social Media

New Research Monitor on Information Intermediaries published

Since October 2018 we have been observing research developments in the field of information-mediating applications, such as social networks and search engines. We are looking for answers to the question of how algorithmic systems that mediate between information and its recipients influence the free formation of opinion. To this end, we have summarized recent studies, provided insights into ongoing research projects and organized events on the topic.

Now the fourth issue of the Forschungsmon­i­tor Infor­ma­tion­sin­ter­mediäre (Research Mon­i­tor on Infor­ma­tion Inter­me­di­aries) has been pub­lished.

The focus in the cur­rent issue is on stud­ies of how right-wing extrem­ist and pop­ulist forces impact the pub­lic sphere. Sev­er­al of the stud­ies includ­ed in this issue reveal how extrem­ist ele­ments make tar­get­ed use of the mech­a­nisms of social media in order to gen­er­ate atten­tion. Togeth­er these stud­ies yield a gen­er­al insight:

Some researchers thus see a key con­nec­tion between the cur­rent glob­al strength­en­ing of right-wing pop­ulist cur­rents and the increas­ing impor­tance of social media as a means of com­mu­ni­ca­tion. They are also increas­ing­ly look­ing at ways to counter right-wing pop­ulist and extrem­ist cur­rents on inter­me­di­ary ser­vices and at where reg­u­la­tion needs be applied. These top­ics are not only com­plex for researchers: In polit­i­cal dis­course and civil soci­ety as well numer­ous ques­tions remain unan­swered, despite increas­ing­ly sys­tem­at­ic find­ings. For exam­ple, what form can transna­tion­al reg­u­la­tion take? What needs to change? And how can fac­tu­al­ly accu­rate infor­ma­tion be dis­sem­i­nat­ed more wide­ly in social net­works in order to coun­ter­act dis­in­for­ma­tion? Would this even help? Despite these ques­tions, this issue con­tains one impor­tant insight for the here and now (…): The algo­rithms behind social net­works remain a high­ly potent tool for right-wing pop­ulist nar­ra­tives their com­mu­ni­ca­tion strate­gies. How­ev­er, if employed as shrewd­ly, they can also prove a high­ly potent instru­ment for those advanc­ing a demo­c­ra­t­ic agen­da.

A chal­lenge for research is still the pauci­ty of data: It remains unclear how exact­ly the algo­rithms behind search engines or social media appli­ca­tions work. “For sci­en­tif­ic researchers, the tiny amount of data made pub­lic avail­able by Face­book or YouTube, for exam­ple, is not suf­fi­cient. The pri­vate-sec­tor com­pa­nies behind these inter­me­di­ary ser­vices must coop­er­ate with researchers. So far this has only hap­pened to the extent need­ed for good cor­po­rate PR, but this is not enough to allow us to find gen­er­al­iz­able sci­en­tif­ic answers,” accord­ing to Jaana Müller-Brehm, author of the Research Mon­i­tor. Nev­er­the­less, this field con­tin­ues to devel­op and yield new find­ings at a rapid pace, find­ings which are impor­tant both for soci­ety and the shap­ing of pol­i­cy.

The com­plete edi­tion of the Research Mon­i­tor with all of its find­ings can be found here. The Research Mon­i­tor on Infor­ma­tion Inter­me­di­aries is com­mis­sioned by the Medi­en­anstalt NRW (Media Author­i­ty of North Rhine-West­phalia). All issues can be down­loaded free of charge from the Media Authority’s web­site or from our own. The Research Mon­i­tor has been pub­lished every four months since June, 2018.

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