Media

Journalists Working Alongside Harvard Academics To ‘Mitigate Media Manipulation’

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Kendall Tietz Education Reporter
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  • Top media executives have been attending Zoom calls this fall as part of a program hosted by Harvard academics to “help newsroom leaders fight misinformation and media manipulation” in the news. 
  • The meetings are part of a News Leaders Summit at Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, according to an announcement about the program. The summit attracted executives from major news outlets, including CNN, the Los Angeles Times, Axios, Buzzfeed News, the Associated Press, NBC News, MSNBC and more.
  • The New York Times media critic Ben Smith said that actions like this create “a murky situation that is hard to call ‘misinformation,’ even if some journalists and academics like the clarity of that label.”

Top media executives have been attending Zoom calls this fall as part of a program hosted by Harvard academics to “help newsroom leaders fight misinformation and media manipulation” in the news.

The meetings are part of a News Leaders Summit at Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, according to an announcement about the program. The summit attracted executives from major news outlets, including CNN, the Los Angeles Times, Axios, Buzzfeed News, the Associated Press, NBC News, MSNBC and more.

Despite the seemingly innocent goal of the meetings, The New York Times media critic Ben Smith said that a program like this only creates “a murky situation that is hard to call ‘misinformation,’ even if some journalists and academics like the clarity of that label.”

Working with each other and the faculty and staff of the Shorenstein Center, attendees reportedly “develop procedures and protocols for handling this great threat to the media ecosystem, and thereby protecting the functioning of democracy” so that participants can “apply findings of years of misinformation research to their own work and the work of their newsrooms.”

In the first session, some participants were reportedly confounded by content which considered a Harvard case study about the news coverage of Hunter Biden’s laptop leading up to the 2020 presidential election, according to a participant who shared the content of the session with the NYT. According to the Harvard analysis, the way the media handled the story gives “an instructive case study on the power of social media and news organizations to mitigate media manipulation campaigns,” the Shorenstein Center summary said, according to the NYT.

A laptop, allegedly left by Biden at a computer repair shop 2019, contained emails and photos that showed how Biden attempted to use his father’s political position to leverage financial gain. Twitter blocked links to the story first reported by the New York Post, later reversing gear and apologizing for the decision.

“The images contained in the articles include personal and private information — like email addresses and phone numbers — which violate our rules,” Twitter Safety said regarding its decision to censor the NYP’s report. “We also currently view materials included in the articles as violations of our Hacked Materials Policy.”

“Our communication around our actions on the @nypost article was not great,” former Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey later said on the platform. “And blocking URL sharing via tweet or DM with zero context as to why we’re blocking: unacceptable.”

The Shorenstein Center’s research director, Joan Donovan, told Smith that the case considering Biden’s laptop is “designed to cause conversation — it’s not supposed to leave you resolved as a reader.”

Smith said that “misinformation” in the case of Biden’s laptop was used synonymously with “material passed along by Trump aides” and that “media manipulation” is akin “to any attempt to shape news coverage by people whose politics you dislike.” (RELATED: Bill Maher Slams Liberal Media For Ignoring Hunter Biden Laptop Right To Cuomo’s Face)

Silicon Valley engineers can deem something “misinformation” based on who is spreading the claims and how they are doing it, even if it is true, Smith said. As a result, Smith said that he didn’t think the word “misinformation” has a precise meaning.

Smith argued that the focus on misinformation is a technocratic solution, an attempt at control by elite, technical experts, but that the label involves both politics and technology. By focusing on “misinformation,” he said, people running news organizations and higher education institutions are more comfortable battling an “information crisis” rather than a political crisis.

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