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This is an open access title available under the terms of a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 International licence. It is free to read at Oxford Scholarship Online and offered as a free PDF download from OUP and selected open access locations. Is social media destroying democracy? Are Russian propaganda or "Fake news" entrepreneurs on Facebook undermining our sense of a shared reality? A co This is an open access title available under the terms of a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 International licence. It is free to read at Oxford Scholarship Online and offered as a free PDF download from OUP and selected open access locations. Is social media destroying democracy? Are Russian propaganda or "Fake news" entrepreneurs on Facebook undermining our sense of a shared reality? A conventional wisdom has emerged since the election of Donald Trump in 2016 that new technologies and their manipulation by foreign actors played a decisive role in his victory and are responsible for the sense of a "post-truth" moment in which disinformation and propaganda thrives. Network Propaganda challenges that received wisdom through the most comprehensive study yet published on media coverage of American presidential politics from the start of the election cycle in April 2015 to the one year anniversary of the Trump presidency. Analysing millions of news stories together with Twitter and Facebook shares, broadcast television and YouTube, the book provides a comprehensive overview of the architecture of contemporary American political communications. Through data analysis and detailed qualitative case studies of coverage of immigration, Clinton scandals, and the Trump Russia investigation, the book finds that the right-wing media ecosystem operates fundamentally differently than the rest of the media environment. The authors argue that longstanding institutional, political, and cultural patterns in American politics interacted with technological change since the 1970s to create a propaganda feedback loop in American conservative media. This dynamic has marginalized centre-right media and politicians, radicalized the right wing ecosystem, and rendered it susceptible to propaganda efforts, foreign and domestic. For readers outside the United States, the book offers a new perspective and methods for diagnosing the sources of, and potential solutions for, the perceived global crisis of democratic politics.


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This is an open access title available under the terms of a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 International licence. It is free to read at Oxford Scholarship Online and offered as a free PDF download from OUP and selected open access locations. Is social media destroying democracy? Are Russian propaganda or "Fake news" entrepreneurs on Facebook undermining our sense of a shared reality? A co This is an open access title available under the terms of a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 International licence. It is free to read at Oxford Scholarship Online and offered as a free PDF download from OUP and selected open access locations. Is social media destroying democracy? Are Russian propaganda or "Fake news" entrepreneurs on Facebook undermining our sense of a shared reality? A conventional wisdom has emerged since the election of Donald Trump in 2016 that new technologies and their manipulation by foreign actors played a decisive role in his victory and are responsible for the sense of a "post-truth" moment in which disinformation and propaganda thrives. Network Propaganda challenges that received wisdom through the most comprehensive study yet published on media coverage of American presidential politics from the start of the election cycle in April 2015 to the one year anniversary of the Trump presidency. Analysing millions of news stories together with Twitter and Facebook shares, broadcast television and YouTube, the book provides a comprehensive overview of the architecture of contemporary American political communications. Through data analysis and detailed qualitative case studies of coverage of immigration, Clinton scandals, and the Trump Russia investigation, the book finds that the right-wing media ecosystem operates fundamentally differently than the rest of the media environment. The authors argue that longstanding institutional, political, and cultural patterns in American politics interacted with technological change since the 1970s to create a propaganda feedback loop in American conservative media. This dynamic has marginalized centre-right media and politicians, radicalized the right wing ecosystem, and rendered it susceptible to propaganda efforts, foreign and domestic. For readers outside the United States, the book offers a new perspective and methods for diagnosing the sources of, and potential solutions for, the perceived global crisis of democratic politics.

30 review for Network Propaganda: Manipulation, Disinformation, and Radicalization in American Politics

  1. 4 out of 5

    Peter (Pete) Mcloughlin

    Book demonstrates that media polarization and bias is asymmetric in the US while the left holds to journalistic standards the right goes for confirmation bias and propaganda. The right side of the political spectrum has become over time unmoored from facts and reality. The author documents the rise of the propaganda driven right-wing media bubble. He also shows that this media ecology was in place long before the internet with talk radio and fox news leading the way long before newer media on th Book demonstrates that media polarization and bias is asymmetric in the US while the left holds to journalistic standards the right goes for confirmation bias and propaganda. The right side of the political spectrum has become over time unmoored from facts and reality. The author documents the rise of the propaganda driven right-wing media bubble. He also shows that this media ecology was in place long before the internet with talk radio and fox news leading the way long before newer media on the internet was on the scene. The internet hasn't helped but it isn't the main culprit. My personal hunch is the mindsets of the right with its constant need for cognitive closure and reassuring narratives made them fall prey to propaganda in a way that people on the left are less susceptible. Regardless the author documents the structure of the media environment and concludes with lots of evidence that the right has left the reality-based world. Here is Benkler in an interview summing up his book. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UUrGA...

  2. 4 out of 5

    Maru Kun

    Review in the New Yorker, August 2018 - looks interesting. Haven't watched it all yet, but a one and a half hour debate with the authors at the Cato Institute of all places. Perhaps just a chance for them to gloat over their propaganda successes? Review in the New Yorker, August 2018 - looks interesting. Haven't watched it all yet, but a one and a half hour debate with the authors at the Cato Institute of all places. Perhaps just a chance for them to gloat over their propaganda successes?

  3. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

    This is the best book I have read so far on the interaction between right wing politics and media. The authors adopt a relatively neutral tone, are scrupulously transparent in describing their methods, and offer insights hard to find elsewhere. The authors admirably avoid hyperbolic narratives about Russian influence, the Alt-right, commercial algorithms and "internet echo chambers" while demonstrating the ways in which all of these factors are currently at play.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Bob Duke

    Must Read for all journalists and political activists Very well researched and alarming. Whilst the focus of much concern has been in the Russian meddling this book makes clear it has been the decades long growth of far right media in the form of Fox News which is the rampaging Gorilla destroying U.S. democracy.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Robbie Forkish

    This is by far the best explanation I've read of what happened in the 2016 election, and how politics has been fundamentally changed. Yes, the Russians were a factor. Yes, the alt-right factions became more vocal. Yes, there was fake news. Yes, Facebook has created echo chambers and disinformation campaigns. But the chaos and partisanship we're experiencing now are the culmination of a decades-long trend that started with Rush Limbaugh and culminated in Fox News and its powerful propaganda feedb This is by far the best explanation I've read of what happened in the 2016 election, and how politics has been fundamentally changed. Yes, the Russians were a factor. Yes, the alt-right factions became more vocal. Yes, there was fake news. Yes, Facebook has created echo chambers and disinformation campaigns. But the chaos and partisanship we're experiencing now are the culmination of a decades-long trend that started with Rush Limbaugh and culminated in Fox News and its powerful propaganda feedback loop--one that was able to amplify its partisan narrative through the alt-right, Facebook and fake news. This is the megaphone behind Pizzagate and the Clintons' Lolita Express and other conspiracy theories. This is uniquely American, and it's threatening democracy. The authors use data sets of thousands of articles and news segments, analyzing millions of shares from the open web, Twitter, and Facebook to determine how peoples' thinking is manipulated with narrative-reinforcing stories no matter how true (and mostly they were blatantly false). See how mainstream media sometimes unwittingly played a role in validating and keeping such stories in the public eye. And read case studies of how Breitbart, Infowars and other fringe sites fed off of each other so that stories, no matter how far-fetched, were repeated so often by so many right-wing sources that people couldn't help but believe them. Only if people understand the root cause of our crazy media and social media ecosystems is there any hope of being able to fix it and maybe save democracy. I highly recommend this book for that purpose.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Heidi

    A well-researched book investigating the factors of polarization, misinformation and propaganda that were seen during the 2016 American presidential election. The authors look at intentional misinformation, conspiracy theories, bullshit and the amplification and spread of stories to look for methods and factors. Contrary to some of the common theories they did not show that Facebook specifically or the internet more generally were of significant impact. The voters most likely to be using these s A well-researched book investigating the factors of polarization, misinformation and propaganda that were seen during the 2016 American presidential election. The authors look at intentional misinformation, conspiracy theories, bullshit and the amplification and spread of stories to look for methods and factors. Contrary to some of the common theories they did not show that Facebook specifically or the internet more generally were of significant impact. The voters most likely to be using these services were less likely to be Trump voters, and the types of influence that were attempted is shown to be of minimal impact. The authors use a great analogy 'If $5000 is stolen from a billionaire, it doesn't make it less illegal even if the billionaire might not notice it's loss' - cautioning that these tactics are likely in the future and likely to become more effective over time. The authors convincingly show that the internet echoes trends that are present in television and radio. Network Propaganda identifies and examines several more powerful trends that impacted the 2016 election using machine learning assisted word maps and other tools with information gathered from Twitter data, traditional polling, close examination of newspaper, television, and other medias. The asymmetric relationship with truth between the left and the right is shown in a variety of contexts. This shows the left exists in a "Reality Check" dynamic that penalizes the spread of misinformation and says 'well, actually..' meaning that even if a story is shared, it will be corrected. The right does not share this habit, and that gives the right what they call a first-mover advantage. The American right-wing media, described as Rush Limbaugh, Fox News and tv evangelicals among others, established a separate media ecosystem that does not have the same penalties and disadvantages for propaganda. They intimately review the ways individual stories would rise from a suspicious source and become propagated into the larger news cycle through reactions to this false story. They examine politifact and it's data, and ways that it is both useful and could be improved. Don't imagine that this book is entirely complimentary about the left - they do show several efforts to duplicate the right's information tactics, they just show that it hasn't been as successful. The book is mostly research and evidence but it does have a few specific proposals that seem reasonable. An open database containing the ads placed on a platform, with purchaser data available for customers above a certain amount of purchases, would combat 'dark ads' - ads tightly targeted to be less public such as neonazi support. They also enjoin reporters to put more emphasis on truth and accountability over norms of balance and neutrality to overcome the asymmetric way affinity and identity-confirming networks amplifies extreme and uninformed views. This is in part because a diffuse information ecosystem allows a small segment of viewers to become immersed in identity-confirming news where they are not confronted by potentially uncomfortable news stories. Overall very interesting for the technical discussion of different types of internet misinformation and those who share it, with a lighter discussion of issues brought up in The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power but only in the context of how behavioral marketing can endanger democracy as it becomes more effective, as well as the description of more traditional propagandistic methods. Read via audiobook from the SF Public Library and the Libby app, with references to the free book here https://www.oxfordscholarship.com/vie...

  7. 4 out of 5

    Diogenes

    “[T]he touchstone of propaganda is the intention of the propagandist” (p. 104, Nook version). I have no doubt budding PSYOPers at West Point are writing papers on this very topic semester after semester, but the authors here have performed perhaps the most clinical diagnoses of such a complex, asymmetrical topic with such scientific methodology that it is a laborious act to read and digest the results, and like all complex subjects, the results are surprising on some levels, occasionally mind-bl “[T]he touchstone of propaganda is the intention of the propagandist” (p. 104, Nook version). I have no doubt budding PSYOPers at West Point are writing papers on this very topic semester after semester, but the authors here have performed perhaps the most clinical diagnoses of such a complex, asymmetrical topic with such scientific methodology that it is a laborious act to read and digest the results, and like all complex subjects, the results are surprising on some levels, occasionally mind-blowing, and blatantly obvious on others. Network Propaganda is exhaustive in its framework, with strong adherence to professional, scientific standards, and this must be considered a seminal work for further research. Mike Godwin from Techdirt wrote a very nice review which summarizes the book well, so why should I bother because I’ll probably get mean-spirited about the whole thing: https://www.techdirt.com/articles/201... Godwin’s reasoning is sound, and he speaks directly to the slathering Right wishing to blacklist this book as “liberal” pap (like so much scientific research is by those who wish to live in their thin bubbles of delusion), as much as the wild-eyed Left pointing fingers and shaking fists, screaming “Ah-ha!”: “The progress of knowledge, and of problem-solving in the real world, requires us, regardless of political preferences and philosophical approaches, to come together in recognizing the value of facts.” Facts, objective truths, hard data. These are the tools that push us past this ugly era of disinformation, psychological operations messaging, and the wanton war on Truth. Americans by the millions, and so many countless millions of others world-wide, are being manipulated on a daily, if not hourly, basis. Troll farms, hackers, and Alex-Jones-deplorables are important to understand and neutralize, but this book highlights convincingly that it is the mainstream networks and their online platforms which have done the lion’s share of mass manipulation, the fomenting of false narratives, and the stoking of phantom fears rooted in elemental racism and xenophobia, all perpetuated by ignorance and a dearth of quality education among portions of the citizenry. I’ve said it before and maybe it’ll be my deathbed decree, but the ill-informed voter is the greatest hazard of a republic (i.e., “democracy”). The 4chan/Reddit to Drudge Report/Infowars to Breitbart/Fox News pipeline is painstakingly illustrated through rigorous forensics, while the 1930s radio evangelist to 1980s televangelists to Rush Limbaugh to Fox News to Donald Trump is also influentially explained. Jane Mayer of The New Yorker wrote about the Fox White House in March, 2019 (https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/20...). Don’t get me wrong. Wringing the truths out of politicians—and the powers that pull their strings—isn’t easy, but there are incredibly competent journalists out there doing the heavy lifting. You just have to choose which ones to follow, support, and aid. We certainly are in an epistemic crisis unlike anything before, with the social-psychological mechanics of the internet creating rolling waves of feedback loops spurred onward by dim bulbs with pocket computers and Captain Ahab fixations on their deep-diving whales, unable or unwilling to vet their sources or critically analyze the info before them. Loads of papers and a stack of books have already been written in the past few years about human behavior in the Now, so seek them out. To know thyself is a powerful step towards comprehension of the world around you, and your terribly tiny place within it. The lies we tell ourselves, staring into the mirror darkly, is vexing enough on its own. Start there (you don’t need a psychology degree; you just need penetratingly deep self-reflection), then dig into the “Deep State” and “Fake News” and all those other wonderful catch-phrases and doublespeak of the propaganda machinery. I could fill up this space with quotations to pull you in, but I’d prefer that you support the authors and their research (or your local public library) and get this book/ebook/audiobook. What’s the most obvious component to this important work is how Fox News and its subsidiaries are the prime propaganda driver, and the authors illustrate it conclusively, in play-by-play detail. Sean Hannity says something factually moronic and 3 million Americans nod in agreement like puppets with little American flags stitched into their hands. What’s worse, they grab their smartphones and spread the disease. (Ah, see, I’ve gone down the vitriolic rabbit hole and cast mean-spiritedness towards others. Sigh. Unfortunately, not all people are intelligent.) Thankfully, there are crucial bastions of fact-checking out there, PolitiFact (https://www.politifact.com/) being the one most known to me because I listen to Sacramento’s NPR station. To be an informed voter and citizen, one has to do some hard labor, but the tools exist to empower oneself, no matter what part of the political spectrum you identify with; however, as the anti-vaxers and flat-earthers demonstrate painfully, the war for Truth is going to be a long, hard slog through the trenches of an organized and insidious enemy that knows its target demographics all too well. It will be a slog of attrition, education, and accountability. Which side will you be on? Voltaire warned that “those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities” (“Questions sur les Miracles”, 1765). We have plenty of evidence for this. Can the internet be policed effectively? Can networks be bound by integrity and accountability to the information they dispense? Will the small percentage of the population identifying with the far right realize they’re being played by powers with their own agendas, while the majority of us exist in self-segregated ecosystems? The cynic in me says no, but I hope to be proven wrong. As the authors explain, “[e]xisting in a media ecosystem dominated by media whose role is to confirm your preconceptions and lead you to distrust any sources that might challenge your beliefs is a recipe for misinformation and susceptibility to disinformation. At the end of the day, if one side most trusts Fox News, Hannity, Limbaugh, and Beck, and the other side most trusts NPR, the BBC, PBS, and the New York Times, one cannot expect both sides to be equally informed or equally capable of telling truth from identity-confirming fiction” (p. 306, Nook version). We exist in an era of surveillance capitalism, the likes of which Cambridge Analytica mastered beautifully. Do we have the capabilities to holistically correct the system? The authors conclude that “we see longer-term dynamics of political economy: ideology and institutions interacting with technological adoption as the primary drivers the present epistemic crisis. These dynamics which play out across television, radio, and mainstream professional journalism at least as much as through the internet and social media, have been developing for 30 years and have resulted in a highly asymmetric media ecosystem that is the primary driver of disinformation and propaganda in the American public sphere” (p. 330, Nook version). Solutions are offered, each with a price that some will find intolerable, but legislation is already in the works, including the “Honest Ads Act”. It takes Congress, Silicon Valley, and every Joe/Jill Q. Public to demand action in order to create systemic change in how information is created, properly labeled (transparency), controlled, regulated, and digested. Institutionalized fact-checking is also a Herculean dream, but one AI could help with. The software educators use to scan papers for plagiarism seems to me a great starting point, and this book lists projects already underway. Ideally, taking the money we waste on mindless wars, tax havens for mega-corporations, and tax breaks for the filthy rich, and giving that money to our collective public education systems—well-paid teachers; safe and vibrant school environs; the support structure for mental health, family involvement, and physical fitness; and a gateway to college, a trade school, and/or civil service for every capable child—would ultimately lead to a better-educated, more worldly, critical-thinking, and hopefully more compassionate citizenry in a few decades. That is the future I hope for.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Alexa Petre

    Really good analysis of the American media system and how Trump got elected. Scary too!

  9. 5 out of 5

    Neil

    I would rate this book as more suited, in many ways, to academics than to a general public. But I also think the core findings of the research performed are essential for the general public to know. Put simply, the argument, supported by empirical research is as follows: there is significant radicalisation in American politics online, but it is very one-sided: the "media ecosystem" most aligning with a right-wing view is polarised and cut off from the rest of the "media ecosystem" in the way that I would rate this book as more suited, in many ways, to academics than to a general public. But I also think the core findings of the research performed are essential for the general public to know. Put simply, the argument, supported by empirical research is as follows: there is significant radicalisation in American politics online, but it is very one-sided: the "media ecosystem" most aligning with a right-wing view is polarised and cut off from the rest of the "media ecosystem" in the way that is simply not present to anywhere near the same degree on the left. The empirical research entailed examination of links shared by Twitter and Facebook users broken down by political alignment, and examination of weblinks by public websites according to political alignment. It's here that I do find an objection to their methodology, although it is not a fatal one. Their classification of news sources depends on a measure derived from users' retweets of either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, and the ratio of retweets. The exact methodology is described in chapter 2, but it concerns me that an analysis of left vs right that is examining media insularity neglects to take supporters of Bernie Sanders or Jill Stein into account. My suspicion is that this is where left-wing insularity would be most pronounced. Despite this, the broader point remains valid, in that the "mainstream" (Republican, Trump-supporting) right's media ecosystem is insular in a way that the "mainstream" (Democratic, Clinton-supporting) left's media ecosystem is not. This is not to say that media other than the right are perfect. But in mainstream media, there is a tension between telling people what they want to hear , and telling people things they don't want to hear but are true. The problem, on the right that they see in some case studies, is that the right-wing media ecosystem is set up almost exclusively to tell people who tune into it what they want to hear. Worse, they present evidence that the people tuning into this media ecosystem are doing so exclusively. Their data shows that the people they classify as "left" and "centrist" have significant overlap in the media they consume: the left contains more partisan sources, but not at the expense of sources rated more "centrist". Their other major claim is that the effect they observe cannot be placed primarily, or even necessarily at all, on the usual suspects of contemporary media manipulation. Part three of the book takes up, and rejects, the primacy of, in turn, propaganda online, Russian hackers, or algorithmic curation, as causing the effects they see. Instead, in part four, they present historical evidence to suggest that an insular right-wing media ecosystem has been pursued by right-wingers since the 1940s, and pursued with some success since the 1980s. The current situation, per their argument, started with Rush Limbaugh's radio show and has steadily turned in on itself since. Lest left-wingers get too smug, part of their argument about this insularity is that the insularity is one-sided only because of "first mover advantage" given to the side that turns in on itself first. There is no guarantee that, given a slightly different history, things could have turned out differently. I would say this is a very important book. I rate it down a little because it somewhat awkwardly tries to straddle the line between academic book and a book for the general public, falling a little too heavily on the academic side. I also, as I said, have some concerns with their methodology. But it is extremely important, in the contemporary political environment, to have empirical evidence that documents the asymmetry of how media in America is currently configured.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Chris Esposo

    A great detailed overview of research focusing on the digital political partisanship in the United States, as it related to the 2016 presidential election, as well as the immediate digital political landscape up to 1 ½ years post election. The book is not at the level of a formal research paper or monograph in the topic since it does not include good details on methodology nor provide any statistical summarization of the data, though summarizations/visualizations are amply supplied in the form A great detailed overview of research focusing on the digital political partisanship in the United States, as it related to the 2016 presidential election, as well as the immediate digital political landscape up to 1 ½ years post election. The book is not at the level of a formal research paper or monograph in the topic since it does not include good details on methodology nor provide any statistical summarization of the data, though summarizations/visualizations are amply supplied in the form of box plots of categories, line-charts, and basic time series plots. Still, the level of treatment of the material is significantly more rigorous than typical non-fiction mass-marketed books on this topic, and with a full appendix included, can serve as a first-read for an interested technical person looking to understand this phenomena more in-depth. The summary of the findings of the analysis are interesting, they can be understood in broadly 3 points: 1. The network topology of various digital artifacts, be they out/in-link of websites Or topic graphs derived from social media posts, greatly inform the nature of digital propaganda, specifically the Pareto-distribution of links/edges towards certain nodes, relative to others, means the monopolization of the message can be achieved through command of these nodes (websites, accounts, etc.) 2. Digital partisanship is more a function of the nature of people’s behaviors and less the platform by which they interact. Thus, social media like Twitter, FB, exacerbate the challenges of intra-societal propaganda within the United States, they do not enable them, and the researchers conclude that the platforms themselves provide significantly less marginal effect on the output of propaganda relative to things exogenous to the platform 3. By-in-large the “Left” is made up of disparate groups of people who are loosely connected based on common cause to coordinate achievement of goals (climate change, economic inequality, racial justice etc.), whereas the “right” are far more homogeneous with respect to the characteristic of the groups that have formed it (in its contemporary form circa 2013-2018), thus platforms that services either “side” differ significantly in their nature and behavior with respect to transporting and reporting information (e.g. the news). Of course like any academic study in the social sciences, this one has some assumptions on the nature of human behavior with respect to digital partisanship in the United States, though taking a cue from more axiomatic treatments of social sciences, there are relatively sparse and can be summarized: individuals have a propensity to watch bias/values validating news information intrinsically, and this essential nature of human behavior with respect to information consumption for politics partially informs the Pareto-distribution of link-nodes found on the web, and the hub-like structures amplify this desire in the “signal back” to the individuals. This two kinds of hubs that forms can be partitioned broadly into two “types” of information hubs, those that reinforce a “reality check” dynamic, and those that reinforce a “propaganda feedback” dynamic. The analysis that follows takes the form of a series of relevant case-studies leading up to the 2016 presidential elections that demonstrate the phenomena concretely in the data. Much of what is known to observers of politics over the past 3 years is covered here including various “fake-news” and partisan-infused news-cycles phenomena like the “Pizza-gate” pedophilia story of 2015-16, the Trump beauty show pedophilia story of the same time, various immigration-related news cycles, as well as closely related Islamophobia news cycles, and of course the Russia hacking news cycles. In each case, the authors cover how the cycle can be understood in 2 - 4 different (but related) digital datasets, including the aforementioned website in/out link data, Twitter/FB social media data, and search-engine volume data. For each type of dataset the authors explain how they featurized/transformed the data for visualization or modeling briefly. For example, in the case of link-data, transformation amounts to aggregation into counts, and an the application of community-detection algorithms on the graph (mostly for visualization), whereas for social media post, the authors opted for TF-IDF/Word2Vec for basic NLP to extract topics, with some kind of clustering done on the resultant topics/word groupings of the post. Although the nature of these procedures are only mentioned, enough of the process is outlined for a sufficiently novice data scientist or computationally literate person to recreate some elements of these studies if need be. Much of the output of this analysis demonstrates consistently that websites and social media accounts from the right-of-center behave as “propaganda feedback nodes” and this phenomena, though amplified in the digital/web 2.0 era, are consistent with behavior in earlier eras post the ascension of Newt Gingrich and the 1994 GOP-congressional class, although the phenomena of increasing political polarization is shown both graphically and in the literature to be consistent as early back as the 1950s. This identification of the divergent behaviors between the two political camps naturally leads to the question of how/why? This leads back to the conclusion that the network topology of the information seems to be the major culprit, though this is merely the abstract mechanisms and effects, as to a more concrete why, they outline several hypothesis which involve some brief discussions of the difference between the rational-voter theory and the in-group/out-group identification theory of voting, as well as a history of the development of conservative media from the 70s moral-majority era to the cable-news revolution of the 80s/90s, and of course the emergence of AM-talk radio. They discuss the original strict laws put in place with respect to the news, and it’s information-content and it’s accuracy. Initially news broadcasts were viewed more in a utilitarian light, but through the dismemberment of these laws and guidelines in the 60s and 70s, they were eventually used as a tool of information warfare, mostly by right-of-center actors, both within the religious evangelical groups, and the associated conservative revolution which eventually led to the creation of Fox News. As to why conservatives were first to mobilize resources in this way, there’s some suggestion at a game-theoretic analysis of this phenomena, but no real formal analysis is made manifest in this text. There’s also a question as to whether what is observed in the data is the partisanship between groups of “elites” vs groups of “normal people”. Studies for both hypotheses are mentioned, though the authors state evidence for one or the other are currently inconclusive. However, it seems clear that conservative were the first mover to weaponize media in this way primarily because they have consistently been the minority in the various media spaces from FM radio, television, film, and to some extent the web, and the purposeful design to build bias-validating information sources were an attempt to mitigate their diminishment. In essence, conservatives have acknowledged that they lost the culture wars, and cannot compete apples-to-apples in the same environment and thus must make new environments in a kind of ‘oblique defense’ to take a term from Von Clausewitz. Nothing in this book should be surprising for an observer of politics. The value of the text is that it quantifies the phenomena which until now was very “fuzzy”, mostly because much of our activity is now artifacted on the web. Both the kindle and the audible are worth purchasing for this title, the audible to “force” yourself to read the entire thing cover-to-cover and to digest the high-level information, and the kindle to dig deeper. I haven’t yet re-read the book by eye, and so may have missed some pertinent details, but look forward to a more deliberate reading. The visualizations are good, and can be recreated probably with a GUI like Gephi or leveraging some library like NetworkX via Python. In fact, this book would be a good guide for a deliberate exercise to re-create for practice/research, as everything outputted here seems achievable both from a results-standpoint and a visual standpoint. Overall, I’m happy with this book and recommend it to either technical people working in media or the social sciences, or observers of politics who wish to test their intuition on the data. Highly recommended.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Adina

    A new book with rigorous analysis of how millions of stories were published, linked and shared over the last three years yields some surprising findings and valuable insights into dangerous trends that are posing risks to American democracy. In Network Propaganda, Yochai Benkler, Robert Faris and Hal Roberts at Harvard’s Berkman Center used a variety of analysis tools to track the links and sharing of over 4 million pieces of content during and after the 2016 US presidential election. They find A new book with rigorous analysis of how millions of stories were published, linked and shared over the last three years yields some surprising findings and valuable insights into dangerous trends that are posing risks to American democracy. In Network Propaganda, Yochai Benkler, Robert Faris and Hal Roberts at Harvard’s Berkman Center used a variety of analysis tools to track the links and sharing of over 4 million pieces of content during and after the 2016 US presidential election. They find - to their surprise - that while social media serves as a vector for the spread of false and pernicious stories, and bad actors including state-sponsored Russian trolls and commercially motivated clickbait farms contributed to the fog of misinformation, it turns out that to date, these haven’t been the main agents contributing to the proliferation of of untruth. Mainstream media with fact-based journalistic norms are still by far the most powerful voices; and are able to reach a substantial majority of the population. So important solutions to the spread of misinformation lie in the practices of mainstream journalism. The custom of bringing voices from “both sides” should be deemphasized when one side of the discussion is further from verification, for example quoting vaccination opponents and climate deniers for "balance" Instead, reputable journalists should place greater emphasis on objectivity by showing verification. The authors do find evidence of a “filter bubble”, but the phenomenon is asymmetrical, concentrated on the far right of the political spectrum, where people tend to rely exclusively on right-wing media and not on other media with stronger orientation toward facts. "The right side of the spectrum... has Breitbart and Fox News as its basin of attraction, has almost no overlap with the center, and is sharply separated from the rest of the map." There are also conspiracy theories and other false stories that come from the left side of the spectrum, but the stories tend not to spread as far because misinformation gets fact-checked by other publications. And the filter bubble on the right isn’t new, and it wasn’t created by Facebook or YouTube or Russian internet trolls. The book traces how the right wing filter bubble goes back decades, to the rise of televangelism, Rush Limbaugh, and right wing media ecosystem that prides itself in denouncing mainstream media, science and academia. This set of circumstances is distinctive to the US media ecosystem, not generalized in other parts of the world. Benkler et al don’t discount the risks of social media sharing of disinformation, and have some policy recommendations to add to that important discussion and debate. But based on the analysis in the book, it’s not - yet - the main problem threatening democratic discourse in the US. Because its conclusions rely on robust analysis of lots of data, I strongly recommend Network Propaganda to anyone concerned about the risks of today’s media environment to democratic discourse.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Clarke

    Very interesting, a bit repetitive. The main thesis seems to be borne out by clear evidence, and matches the currently prevailing narrative: Right wing media led by Fox News and talk radio has developed a strangle hold on ~30% of the US population. Consumers show high levels of trust in these sources, low levels of mixed consumption from other sources, and low levels of trust in other sources. The narrative that other sources are untrustworthy is a common one. These sources are highly biased, hav Very interesting, a bit repetitive. The main thesis seems to be borne out by clear evidence, and matches the currently prevailing narrative: Right wing media led by Fox News and talk radio has developed a strangle hold on ~30% of the US population. Consumers show high levels of trust in these sources, low levels of mixed consumption from other sources, and low levels of trust in other sources. The narrative that other sources are untrustworthy is a common one. These sources are highly biased, have much higher rates of misinformation, and are insular in referencing within their circles and not without. Each of these ideas is qualitatively and quantitatively describes in this book. On the left, there is not the same problem. News sources are less biased, the most consumed sources are less prone to spreading misinformation, and consumers of these sources trust media more as well as consume from wider ranges of sources. If you look at how stories propagate on the left and center vs on the right, you see more evidence that the dynamics of propaganda are inverted - false propaganda quickly dies on the center and left sources while it is amplified in the right. Most of these ideas relate to sources like MSNBC, Fox News, CNN, ABC, NBC, Wall Street journal, Washington Post, NYTimes. Both sides have a fair share of extremist small players outside the core sources, which are prone to conspiracies and propaganda. However only the right (Fox News) amplifies this (and MSNBC). Since center and left sources quench propaganda, MSNBCs effect is not large on audiences with diverse consumption habits. Since right wing viewers only consume Fox News and further right sources, the effect is huge. Looking at trolls and Russian bots, and specifically at the stories arising from these sources, it becomes clear the most impactful stories in the 2016 election and the first year of Trump were not from Russia or trolls, but form the standard actors and propagandists (campaigns, PACs, etc). The media ecosystem and it’s faults were much larger players in the election than the other boogeymen. Further, if you consider the domestic politics at the time beyond just myopically thinking of the media, the boogeyman impact is even smaller.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Mike

    4.5 stars. The primary argument in this book is that the current American media environment is not polarized (i.e., a symmetric division of co-equal, differing positions) but instead includes a fringe right-wing bubble encased in a propaganda feedback loop with no way to check their self-reinforcing views, set against a traditional media environment of centrist journalists and left-wing partisans who are concerned with fact-checking that resists the spread of misinformation. Whereas falsehoods, 4.5 stars. The primary argument in this book is that the current American media environment is not polarized (i.e., a symmetric division of co-equal, differing positions) but instead includes a fringe right-wing bubble encased in a propaganda feedback loop with no way to check their self-reinforcing views, set against a traditional media environment of centrist journalists and left-wing partisans who are concerned with fact-checking that resists the spread of misinformation. Whereas falsehoods, misinformation, and disinformation are tamped down and corrected in the traditional media and on the partisan left (the “reality-check dynamic”), they are amplified and built into the system as “design features of the network” on the right. Any attempt on to the right to use facts to correct such false information is punished. The result is that media sources on the right identify and propagate “identity confirmation” rather than truth. Instead of factual checks, their audience is offered an echo chamber of misinformation. The authors refer to this as the “propaganda feedback loop.” The authors come to this conclusion based on analyses of clicks and links into and out of Facebook, twitter, and blogs, using a huge number of graphs to present their findings. This is a long, detailed book, and sometimes it gets a little repetitive, but ultimately the authors succeed in making their case. My one minor criticism is that many of the graphs include text that is so microscopically small as to be impossible to read. Even when tracking down the free Open Access version of the book and zooming in, some of the text is impossible to read for all the smaller nodules in the graphs. But this is a minor criticism, since the point of the graphs is to highlight the major connections (which can be easily read) and to present a visually dynamic version of the collated evidence. In this case, the authors are also successful. Recommended for anyone interested in propaganda in the Trump age, political rhetoric, and media studies in general.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Vikas Erraballi

    Using multiple case studies of 2016/2018 false political narratives; how they emerged; how they were propagated; how they were challenged or not challenged; authors build out a convincing case that it was not Russia or new technological factors that were most responsible, but rather an asymmetry in the US’ media ecosystem where the right-wing conservative side is not subject to the same fact-checking and standards as the left. There are times when I feel authors get over their skis making the ar Using multiple case studies of 2016/2018 false political narratives; how they emerged; how they were propagated; how they were challenged or not challenged; authors build out a convincing case that it was not Russia or new technological factors that were most responsible, but rather an asymmetry in the US’ media ecosystem where the right-wing conservative side is not subject to the same fact-checking and standards as the left. There are times when I feel authors get over their skis making the argument, for example on page 144, where they highlight an episode of Hannity speaking on the possibility of the Clinton Foundation being a vector for foreign influence : https://books.google.com/books?id=MVR... Not enough time is spent on how the Iraq War was legitimized. I read it and came away skeptical of the authors criticality and more skeptical of mainstream blue narratives.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Emile

    This was both a horrible book to take in as an audiobook and desperately needed a more ruthless editor. The combination made it a struggle for me to finish. I think some of the takeaways are sound: they way that extreme right wing partisan media has gone in the US is different in kind from what exists on the left, the split has been gestating at least since Regan, and is not really the result of the existence of the internet, neither purely monetarily motivated nor politically motivated bot/sockp This was both a horrible book to take in as an audiobook and desperately needed a more ruthless editor. The combination made it a struggle for me to finish. I think some of the takeaways are sound: they way that extreme right wing partisan media has gone in the US is different in kind from what exists on the left, the split has been gestating at least since Regan, and is not really the result of the existence of the internet, neither purely monetarily motivated nor politically motivated bot/sockpuppet attempts to manipulate the 2016 election were likely to have had a statistically significant effect. I wish it had spent more time engaging with the psychological factors for individuals caught in the "propaganda feedback loop", as well as engaging more seriously with the line between the (aggressive) critique of mainstream media from the left and the right wing propaganda network's "critique" of mainstream media.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Steve

    A really interesting book that taught me something about the American media landscape. The first third of the book I found the most informative, but it is all worth reading. Mostly about how right wing media do not have built in, fact checking mechanisms in their landscape While the left is more integrated with the centre, reinforced by journalistic practices Refreshing to see direct language that calls out certain organizations and individuals The ending surprised me since they promote truth seeki A really interesting book that taught me something about the American media landscape. The first third of the book I found the most informative, but it is all worth reading. Mostly about how right wing media do not have built in, fact checking mechanisms in their landscape While the left is more integrated with the centre, reinforced by journalistic practices Refreshing to see direct language that calls out certain organizations and individuals The ending surprised me since they promote truth seeking institutions, but warn against left-wing criticism of objectivity Which I think is a bit contradictory Also, kinda surprised that 538 and NPR are described a left wing rather than in the middle I wonder if I am biased :P Overall though A book worth reading for people who fell into an existential political abyss after the 2016 election, like me.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jeri McNeill

    Incredible data driven analysis of media and Internet/digital media on American democracy. The largest most thoughtful scope I’ve seen considered in this space. Solutions chapter is a little muddy at the discussion of a centralized public database - who would run this? And mixing in external efforts of platform manipulation conducted by state actors or PR firms muddies the waters unless careful consideration is given to how the database tables are laid out...and this would require some stakehold Incredible data driven analysis of media and Internet/digital media on American democracy. The largest most thoughtful scope I’ve seen considered in this space. Solutions chapter is a little muddy at the discussion of a centralized public database - who would run this? And mixing in external efforts of platform manipulation conducted by state actors or PR firms muddies the waters unless careful consideration is given to how the database tables are laid out...and this would require some stakeholder consensus with platforms to achieve successful shared context. Overall, highly recommend as a first step in starting this discussion with platforms, governments, NGO’s, researchers, and academics. This is a conversation we need to have sooner than later. Thank you to the authors for the rigorous work involved in getting a constructive discussion started!

  18. 5 out of 5

    Tony Leach

    Well researched, with believable conclusions about the state of America’s media ecosystem and how it led to surprising results in the 2016 election. On one hand, it’s encouraging that the authors don’t lay the blame at the feet of technology - the most obvious culprit. On the other, it’s disheartening that our media ecosystem is so broken that we’re unlikely to see much change, at least not soon. It’s hard to avoid the strong perspective the authors have, which in many cases reads like bias. I w Well researched, with believable conclusions about the state of America’s media ecosystem and how it led to surprising results in the 2016 election. On one hand, it’s encouraging that the authors don’t lay the blame at the feet of technology - the most obvious culprit. On the other, it’s disheartening that our media ecosystem is so broken that we’re unlikely to see much change, at least not soon. It’s hard to avoid the strong perspective the authors have, which in many cases reads like bias. I worry that even having this whiff of bias may turn people against this book, only when they’re the ones that need to read it the most.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Robert Stevenson

    I enjoyed this book, I rate it 4 out of 4 stars, it is a must read about American political news media. The book uses big data to describe how the American right became radicalized followed by how this radicalized right has reshaped its news media into a propaganda feedback system of disinformation, misinformation and lies. Lastly the authors discuss how threatening this radicalized right media system is to democracy and what we can do to contain it.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Matthew Luttmann

    If you have wondered how the American media landscape interacts with our polarized political situation, this book will satifsfy. This is the kind of grounded, in-depth analysis that I really dig. The authors lay out their case clearly and provide solid examples. The writing style is on the academic side, but in a good (well-written) way.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Yash Patel

    [9/30 Mass update] Definitely not a page turner by any means, but very clearly explained arguments, especially surrounding the separation of truth in media outlets. The material was presented clearly (if dryly) with citations throughout and illuminating graphs.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Fred Von lohmann

    Great book, hampered only by it's academic orientation. For general interest readers, start at Part 4 to the end. Then read the earlier chapters selectively based on interest.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Keith Grace

    Absolute required reading for all of America. It’s that plainly clear. Enough said. Read this book now.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Erkan Saka

    Unlike Benkler's previous writings, this book does not add anything but intense elaboration of already existing knowledge.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Julie

    An absolute must-read!

  26. 4 out of 5

    Andrés

    Could've been shorter. Long critique on right wing media.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Emil O. W. Kirkegaard

    Interesting but not convincing book written from the mainstream left perspective.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Christine

    very dense but very good!!

  29. 5 out of 5

    Adarsh

    Must-read for anybody curious about the US media ecosystem circa 2016.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Julie

    Fascinating.

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