The report by Data & Society draws on in-depth interviews by scholar Whitney Phillips to showcase how news media was hijacked from 2016 to 2018 to amplify the messages of hate groups.
Offering extremely candid comments from mainstream journalists, the report provides a snapshot of an industry caught between the pressure to deliver page views, the impulse to cover manipulators and “trolls,” and the disgust (expressed in interviewees’ own words) of accidentally propagating extremist ideology.
After reviewing common methods of “information laundering” of radical and racist messages through the press, Phillips uses journalists’ own words to propose a set of editorial “better practices” intended to reduce manipulation and harm.
As social and digital media are leveraged to reconfigure the information landscape, Phillips argues that this new domain requires journalists to take what they know about abuses of power and media manipulation in traditional information ecosystems; and apply and adapt that knowledge to networked actors, such as white nationalist networks online.
This work is the first practitioner-focused report from Data & Society’s Media Manipulation Initiative, which examines how groups use the participatory culture of the internet to turn the strengths of a free society into vulnerabilities.
The Oxygen of Amplification has three interlocking parts:
Part 1 provides a historical overview of the relationship between the news media and far-right manipulators who leveraged trolling and meme culture during the 2016 US presidential election.
Part 2 identifies the consequences of reporting on bigoted, damaging, or otherwise problematic information and the structural limitations of journalism (economic, labor, and cultural) that exacerbate these tensions.
Part 3 is a tactical guide for newsrooms that recommends “better” practices on establishing newsworthiness; handling objectively false information; covering specific online harassment campaigns or manipulators, bigots, and abusers.