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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