Commentary: Phil Howard on democratizing data
20 July 2018
Phil Howard was named one of Foreign Policy’s top global thinkers of 2017, along with Alice Marwick from Data and Society/UNC!
Howard heads the Computational Propaganda Project at Oxford, an interdisciplinary research group that combines the methods of computer science, political science, and sociology to examine how the internet and social media can be used to manipulate public opinion. His project has brought scientific rigor to bear on the phenomenon of fake news by systematically cataloging and analyzing how bots and automation are influencing public opinion.
Trained as a sociologist, Howard got his first taste of the fake news phenomenon while living in Budapest in 2012, when allies of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban used the power of innuendo and rumor to cast aspersions on the country’s Roma population. When in 2014, Russian-backed separatists shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine, Howard’s Hungarian friends began passing along the many conspiracy theories promoted by the Kremlin to explain the disaster — among them, for example, that the U.S. military had downed the packed airliner.
With this development, Howard’s long-standing research interests suddenly intersected with the world of online propaganda. “I’m interested in studying how political elites manipulate people — and how they do that over the internet,” Howard says.
Read the full profile here.