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Misinformation, disinformation and conspiracy theories studied on social, global landscapes by the Center for Media Engagement at the University of Texas, reports attorney Omar Ochoa - conspiracy theories - Titans of the Texas Legislature

FEATURED: The Moody College of Communication at the University of Texas at Austin is home to top-ranked programs in advertising and public relations, communication sciences and disorders, journalism, and radio-television-film. The Center for Media Engagement is part of the Moody College of Communication.



Misinformation, disinformation and conspiracy theories studied on social, global landscapes by the Center for Media Engagement at the University of Texas, reports attorney Omar Ochoa

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The platform of the Internet continues to fuel conspiracy theories, misinformation and disinformation across the globe. To counter this surge of engineered and deceptive practices seen through social media platforms, deceitful activists, biased newsrooms, and foreign and domestic influence from organizations, the Center for Media Engagement, led by Drs. Talia Stround and Gina M. Masullo, was originally created in 2011 as the Engaging News Project.”

Those and other findings were recently released by the Moody College of Communication at the University of Texas, according to attorney Omar Ochoa.

The Center for Media Engagement is part of the Moody College of Communication.

The Moody College of Communication at the University of Texas at Austin is home to top-ranked programs in advertising and public relations, communication sciences and disorders, journalism, and radio-television-film.

“The report from the Moody College of Communication, titled ‘Fact checking agendas – Misinformation, disinformation studied on social, global landscapes’ – helps provide people with a better understanding of the ways individuals and groups are using the Internet to create or change public opinion,” said Ochoa.

Working with researchers from The University of Texas and universities around the country and world, the center’s goal is to create a method of connective democracy uniting news agencies, scholars, social media platforms, and public policy concerns with well thought out ways toward bridging gaps in society.

Ochoa has experience in journalism print publications.

He was the editor-in-chief of the prestigious Texas Law Review at the University of Texas at Austin School of Law, becoming the first Latino to serve in that position.

In the context of law school, a law review is an entirely student-run journal that publishes articles written by law professors, judges, and other legal professionals; many law review journals also publish shorter pieces written by law students called “notes” or comments.

“It is very important for our democracy that more people better understand, and keep up with, the behind-the-scenes strategies, and growing and powerful tools used through the 21st century mass media,” said Ochoa, himself a graduate of the University of Texas as well as the UT School of Law.

Ochoa, an advocate for transparency in government, provides regular reports to the public on federal, state, and local laws that impact journalism, communications, freedom of speech issues, and transparency in government.

According to Ballotpedia, which is a nonprofit and nonpartisan online political encyclopedia that covers federal, state, and local politics, elections, and public policy in the United States:

Openness, accountability, and honesty define government transparency.

In a free society, transparency is government’s obligation to share information with citizens. It is at the heart of how citizens hold their public officials accountable.

Governments exist to serve the people. Information on how officials conduct the public business and spend taxpayers’ money must be readily available and easily understood.

This transparency allows good and just governance. Government transparency is traditionally broken into three different types: proactive disclosure, requesting public records, and campaign finance disclosure.

Marc Speir, a multimedia producer, is credited with writing the story about the “Fact checking agendas – Misinformation, disinformation studied on social, global landscapes”.

Key highlights of Speir’s report follow:

The Center for Media Engagement launched in 2017 and continues as an effort to understand, appreciate, and participate in the democratic exchange of ideas.

Some areas of the Center for Media Engagement study include aspects of journalism, media ethics, propaganda, science, platforms, and bridging divides.

Samuel Woolley is an Assistant Professor in the School of Journalism and Media and Program Director and Knight faculty fellow for the Center for Media Engagement.

Wooley said misinformation is the accidental spread of false content and disinformation is the purposeful spread of it. It can create bad feelings between friends and associates on social media, unite like-minded individuals, and cause mistrust and a lack of interest that results in fewer people voting.

His recent research explores computational propaganda and the ways political parties manipulate social media platforms and influence perception.

Computational propaganda is defined by the use of social media and other digital tools in attempts to manipulate public opinion.

Through disseminating this biased information, individuals, candidates, campaigns, companies, and political parties are able to pass on their agendas and put pressure on opposing views.

This is often achieved by leveraging technology, using bots, and trolling to control the spread of information, as well as automation, artificial intelligence and trending algorithms.

An Internet bot, web robot, robot or simply bot, is a software application that runs automated tasks over the Internet, usually with the intent to imitate human activity on the Internet, such as messaging, on a large scale.

Woolley is the author of “The Reality Game: How the Next Wave of Technology Will Break the Truth”, a 2020 book that unfolds methods of propaganda generation under the teaching of content creations, reception, and intent.

He’s currently working on another book titled “Manufacturing Consensus” that analyzes more than seven years of international field work to study those who build and launch armies of bots on social media.

“One of my goals is to think about the way we respond, and how we can design technology in such a way we’re able to get out in front of problems before they begin,” Woolley said.

With multiple channels from a variety of sources available, misinformation and disinformation are everywhere in culture and spreading worldwide. Patterns of discussions can often overlap and can be generalized to other topics.

School of Journalism and Media Assistant Professor Jo Lukito’s research is more focused on the relationship between disinformation and violence.

Lukito and School of Journalism and Media faculty member Dhiraj Murthy are joining forces with a team of UT Austin researchers from computer science, linguistics, the iSchool and McCombs School of Business to study the potential of designing responsible AI technologies to curb disinformation.

This unique participation between social scientists and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) researchers to study and build solutions against mis-/disinformation is part of a six-year, $750,000 grant funded by Good Systems, the Research Grand Challenge program created by UT’s Office of Research.

One ongoing project looks at domestic misinformation and conspiracy theories about election fraud.

Along with a few researchers at the Center for Media Engagement, Lukito published an article in Wired about a recent QAnon-linked rally that encouraged offline engagement – sometimes with violence – that has since been removed from several social media platforms.

Another project is more focused on international political disinformation, and examines the relationship between state violence and state-sponsored disinformation in Myanmar and Brazil.

This work is advancing the understanding of political disinformation in developing BRICSAM countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa, ASEAN (The Association of Southeast Asian Nations) states, Mexico – which experience a heightened degree of state-sponsored disinformation compared to Western countries.

“I am especially driven by questions related to globalization, global communication, and international relations because of my own experiences as a first-generation American, undergraduate, and graduate student,” Lukito said.


• Automation

Social Media Automation is the process of optimizing social interactions using automated tools. This can include scheduling social posts ahead of time or republishing popular articles. Automating social media publication, engagement and management reduces the hours spent on maintaining and growing brand accounts.

• Artificial Intelligence

Artificial Intelligence is a technology that is already impacting how users interact with, and are affected by the Internet. In the near future, its impact is likely to only continue to grow. AI has the potential to vastly change the way that humans interact, not only with the digital world, but also with each other, through their work and through other socioeconomic institutions – for better or for worse.

• Blogs

In the early stages, a Blog was a personal web log or journal in which someone could share information or their opinion on a variety of topics. The information was posted reverse chronologically, so the most recent post would appear first.

Nowadays, a blog is a regularly updated website or web page, and can either be used for personal use or to fulfill a business need.

• Conspiracy Theory

A Conspiracy Theory is an attempt to explain harmful or tragic events as the result of the action of a small powerful group. Such explanations reject the accept narrative surrounding those events; indeed, the official version may be seen as further proof of the conspiracy.

• Content Creation

Content Creation is the contribution of information to any media and most especially to digital media for an end-user/audience in specific contexts. Content is “something that is to be expressed through some medium, as speech, writing or any of various arts” for self-expression, distribution, marketing and/or publication.

Typical forms of content creation include maintaining and updating web sites, blogging, article writing, photography, videography, online commentary, the maintenance of social media accounts, and editing and distribution of digital media. A Pew survey described content creation as the creation of “the material, people contribute to the online world.”

• Domestic Misinformation

Domestic Misinformation is “false information that is spread, regardless of intent to mislead.” Misinformation doesn’t care about intent, and so is simply a term for any kind of wrong or false information. Today, misinformation spreads very easily thanks to technology.

On social media, users have — as just one tiny instance — shared stories about dolphins and swans swimming in the canals of Venice without checking if those stories are true (they weren’t).

And in part because of such frequent incidents, it is a hot topic of debate if big tech companies like Facebook and Google should be responsible for stopping the spread of misinformation — or even if they even can without violating free speech First Amendment freedom of speech rights of their users.

• Journalism

Journalism is the collection, preparation, and distribution of news and related commentary and feature materials through such print and electronic media as newspapers, magazines, books, blogs, webcasts, podcasts, social networking and social media sites, and e-mail as well as through radio, motion pictures, and television.

• Media Ethics

Media Ethics are the common values that guide reporters. They lay out both the aspirations and obligations that journalists, editors, and others working in the field should follow to execute their work responsibly. Media ethics have evolved over time.

Most news organizations have their own written codes of ethics, as do professional membership bodies. If a professional journalist or news organization violate those ethical standards, they will lose credibility.

• Messaging

Instant Messaging (IM) is yet another efficient method of communication which requires a stable internet connection. It is basically a type of online chat where you can keep a list of people you interact with and send real-time text transmissions over the internet.

In simple terms, it is the exchange of text messages through a software application in real-time. Instant messaging service is more interactive than other forms of communication because information is sent in real-time and it may also provide video-calling, file-sharing, or voice-calling using a microphone and headphone. Instant messaging requires you and your contacts to use the same messaging application to communicate.

• Propaganda

Propaganda is the spreading of ideas, information, or rumor for the purpose of helping or injuring an institution, a cause, or a person. It is ideas, facts, or allegations spread deliberately to further one’s cause or to damage an opposing cause.

Propaganda is the more or less systematic effort to manipulate other people’s beliefs, attitudes, or actions by means of symbols (words, gestures, banners, monuments, music, clothing, insignia, hairstyles, designs on coins and postage stamps, and so forth).

• Simulcast

Simulcast is the broadcasting of programs or events across more than one service on the same medium, at exactly the same time (that is, simultaneously). Another application is the transmission of the original-language soundtrack of movies or TV series over local or Internet radio, with the television broadcast having been dubbed into a local language.

• Social Media

The term Social Media refers to a computer-based technology that facilitates the sharing of ideas, thoughts, and information through virtual networks and communities. Social media is Internet-based and gives users quick electronic communication of content, such as personal information, documents, videos, and photos.

Users engage with social media via a computer, tablet, or smartphone via web-based software or applications. While social media is everywhere in America and Europe, Asian countries like Indonesia lead the list of social media usage. More than 4.5 billion people use social media, as of October 2021.

• Social Media Platform

Social Media Platform means a form of electronic communication, including, but not limited to websites for social networking and microblogging, through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content.

• Social Networking

The term Social Networking refers to the use of internet-based social media sites to stay connected with friends, family, colleagues, customers, or clients. Social networking can have a social purpose, a business purpose, or both, through sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.

• Streaming Media

Streaming Media is multimedia that is delivered and consumed in a continuous manner from a source, with little or no intermediate storage in network elements. Streaming refers to the delivery method of content, rather than the content itself.

• Trending Algorithms

An Algorithm is a mathematical set of rules specifying how a group of data behaves. In social media, algorithms help maintain order and assist in ranking search results and advertisements. On Facebook, for example, there is an algorithm that directs pages and content to display in a certain order.

• Troll

In Internet slang, a Troll is a person who posts inflammatory, insincere, digressive, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community, with the intent of provoking readers into displaying emotional responses, or manipulating others’ perception.

• Webcast

A Webcast is a media presentation distributed over the Internet using streaming media technology to distribute a single content source to many simultaneous listeners/viewers. A webcast may either be distributed live or on demand.

Essentially, webcasting is broadcasting over the Internet. The largest webcasters include existing radio and TV stations, who simulcast their output through online TV or online radio streaming, as well as a multitude of Internet only “stations”.

Webcasting usually consists of providing non-interactive linear streams or events. Rights and licensing bodies offer specific “webcasting licenses” to those wishing to carry out Internet broadcasting using copyrighted material.


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