Tech, Media & Democracy Projects at Machines + Media 2018

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New York City’s universities partnered to support and defend journalism and independent news media --- one of the most critical elements of our democracy --- as they are increasingly under threat. This unique, first-of-its kind program and collaboration brought together Cornell Tech, Columbia University, City University of New York, New York University, and The New School -- in partnership with the NYC Media Lab -- to investigate and understand the various threats to journalism and media, and attempt to address these challenges using design, engineering, and computational methods and techniques. The effort gathered graduate students with backgrounds and expertise in journalism, design, and engineering/technology from these institutions to complete a special course that ran through the spring 2018 semester. 

The project listed below were chosen to participate in Machines + Media, NYC Media Lab's annual data science event:

Reddit Hole
Mikaela Brown, MS Connective Media, Cornell Tech
Devon Bain, MS Connective Media, Cornell Tech

The potential to find extremist content simply by clicking on recommendations has been well-documented on sites like YouTube and Facebook. The team wanted to see if toxic content is also only a few clicks away on Reddit, which has not been studied as extensively. Can the sidebar links created by subreddit moderators lead users down rabbit holes of hateful content?

Digital Health Report
Alex Nathanson, NYU Integrated Digital Media
Pratik Jain, NYU Integrated Digital Media
Davon Larson, NYU Integrated Digital Media

Digital Health Report is a “health report” for websites and digital services which would assign grades to a product based on it’s propensity for addiction, privacy and security issues, and it’s terms of service, among other metrics. The team sketched out a top level prototype of the project and are in the midst of a deeper dive into the addiction aspect, because it’s a crucial part of the attention economy that underlies much of the internet. The team is determining how to best categorize addictive design elements in order to grade them.

Twitter Bump
Akshay Jha, MS Connective Media Cornell Tech
Will Davis, MS Connective Media Cornell Tech
Jamie Yu, MS Connective Media Cornell Tech

Eva Rodriguez, MS Connective Media Cornell Tech

The team is building a platform to track the president’s political appointees. Under Trump’s regime, thousands of new officials have been appointed to office. The platform is a way to use Twitter to monitor what these people are talking about and how it relates to the larger policy changes being made. 

The Secret Club
Rongxin Zhang, MS Connective Media, Cornell Tech
Kirollos Morkos, MS Engineering, Computer Science, Cornell Tech
Colum Murphy, Entrepreneurial Journalism Fellow, CUNY J School
Yijia Wang, MFA Design & Technology, Parsons School of Design
Jenni Wu, MFA Design & Technology, Parsons School of Design
Andy Gallardo, MA Media Studies, Queens College

The Secret Club was inspired by one of our team member’s experiences with censorship in China. The journalist — a foreigner who has spent more than a decade in Greater China — had their stories “taken down” from the internet on several occasions by their employer, a China-based English-language publication. Such censorship would occur when the publication deemed the subject matter too “sensitive” and removed the article from its website, either proactively or in response to instructions from the authorities.

Wiping content from the web meant important voices were silenced. It also left journalists involved in the project frustrated and deprived readers access to vital information.  The Secret Club is an attempt to circumvent such practices, which the team considers contrary to the role of journalism in a society. By allowing journalists and their supporters to disperse via the internet stories that could become a target for censors, the Secret Club allows for the creation of a permanent and shareable record of the story.

Elisabeth Gawthrop, MS Journalism, Columbia University
Andrew Calderon, MS Journalism, Columbia University
Julian Lange, MS Data Visualization, Parsons School of Design
Jeana Chesnik, MFA Design & Technology, Parsons School of Design

When Congress identified a nest of Twitter accounts as Russian actors, Twitter moved to delete them. Around the same time a dataset of the actors’s recent tweets and profile information was handed to NBC. What can be gleaned from this dataset? We investigate the accounts that were retweeted — or amplified — by the Russian accounts to extend the network of Russian accounts and to identify and track bot suspects in that network. Network analysis, computer vision, and old-fashioned reporting come together to try to make sense of this corner of the Internet, and how it interacts with the ‘real’ world.

Brett Leibowitz, MS Connective Media, Cornell Tech
Anmol Seth, MS Connective Media, Cornell Tech
Clara Shim, MS Connective Media, Cornell Tech

Internet platforms today lock people into their own filter bubbles so they have significantly less contact with varying viewpoints causing intellectual isolation. We have built a tool using the Reddit API to put everyone on the same page by gathering all the conversations about the same topic across different communities and literally putting them on the same page.