VOSON Lab Fellow

During my visiting at the Australian National University in Canberra, I’ve been invited to join the VOSON Lab. An opportunity which of course I’ve gladly accepted!

The Virtual Observatory for the Study of Online Networks (VOSON) Lab is located in the Research School of Social Sciences at The Australian National University. We are advancing the Social Science of the Internet through an innovative program of research, research tool development, teaching & research training. We use various terms to describe what we do: web science, network science, computational social science, big data analytics, e-research. The VOSON Lab was formally established in 2005 with an Australian Research Council Special Research Initiative grant. We have been researching online networks since before the era of Facebook and Twitter, and our research has been funded by several ARC grants.

See the lab website

Expert hearing on disinformation and ‘junk news’

I have been invited to intervene as expert on junk news and online misinformation at the 140th Assembly of the Inter Parliamentary Union (Doha, 09/04/19).

Read the answers I gave during my hearing

DOOM (systems-theory for the Disorders Of Online Media) project

The project DOOM (systems-theory for the Disorders Of Online Media), which I will be co-leading with Paolo Frasca, has been selected for funding by the CNRS interdisciplinary call for project 80|PRIME. The project includes a scholarship for one PhD student. Get in touch if interested.

Project abstract:
Online social media have a key role in contemporary society and the debates that take place on them are known to shape political and societal trends. For this reason, pathological phenomena like the formation of “filter bubbles” and the viral propagation of “fake news” are observed with concern. The scientific assumption of this proposal is that these information disorders are direct consequences of the inherent nature of these communication media, and more specifically of the collective dynamics of attention thereby. In order to capture these dynamics, this proposal advocates the mathematical modelling of the interplay between the medium (algorithmic component) and the users (human component). The resulting dynamics shall be explored by a system-theoretic approach, using notions such as feedback and stability.

Download the project document

From Fake News to Online Attention Hyper-Synchronization

In the seminar I gave to ANU Sociology School, I’ve discussed the proliferation of junk news in online discussion arenas and to shift the focus from the content of this news to the way in which digital infrastructures amplify and accelerate media attention cycles and degrade the quality of public debate.

I’ve considered the troubles of the contemporary media system from five different viewpoints (economic, technological, social, cultural and political) and conceptualise them as a metabolic rather than infective disorders.

Download the slides of the presentation

Visiting at Australia National University

From January to March 2019, I have been visiting research at the School of Sociology at the Australian National University in Canberra, thanks to a scholarship of the College of Arts & Social Sciences.

During my visit I have organised three sessions of my “Writing with Data Workshop” and I have worked with professors Robert Ackland and Adrian Mackenzie. Together, we organised a data sprint on online attention dynamics, where we concentrated in particular on data extracted from Reddit.

Download the slides of the introductory presentation and of the results of my group

“API-based research” or how can digital sociology and digital journalism studies learn from the Cambridge Analytica affair

This paper draws on the Cambridge Analytica scandal to discuss the future of API-based research and the importance to develop more solid and diverse digital fieldwork practice.

API-based research is an approach to computational social sciences and digital sociology based on the extraction of records from the datasets made available by online platforms through their application programming interfaces (or APIs). This type of research has allowed the collection of detailed information on large populations, thereby effectively challenging the distinction between qualitative and quantitative methods. Lately, access to this source of data has been significantly reduced after a series of scandals connected to the use of personal information collected through online platforms. The closure of APIs, however, can have positive effects, if it encourages researchers to reduce their dependence on mainstream platforms and explore new sources and ways to collect records on online interactions that are closer to the digital fieldwork.

Venturini, Tommaso, and Richard Rogers. 2019. “‘API-Based Research’ or How Can Digital Sociology and Digital Journalism Studies Learn from the Cambridge Analytica Affair.” Digital Journalism, Forthcoming.

Download the preprint

Junk News Podcast

I’ve recently been interviewed by Mathilde Simon for “Reset” the Podcast of the Fondation Internet Nouvelle Génération. During the interview (in French), I’ve discussed why “fake news” is a terrible label for the current wave of misinformation and why junk news has become so popular online.

Listen to the podcast

From Fake to Junk News, the Data Politics of Online Virality

‘Fake news’ is a key subject of data politics, but also a tricky a one. As this chapter aims to show, various phenomena signified by this misleading label have little in common, except being opposite to the kind of algorithmic intelligence that most other chapters present as the main concern of data politics. This does not mean that ‘fake news’ is not related to computational analytics or political intentions, but it does mean that this relation is not straightforward.

To discuss this relation, I will go through a three-stage argument. First, I will criticise the notion of ‘fake news’, dismissing the idea that this type of misinformation can be defined by its relationship to truth. Second, I will propose a different definition of this phenomenon based on its circulation rather than of its contents. Third, I will reintroduce the connection to data politics, by describing the economic, communicational, technological, cultural and political dimensions of junk news.

Venturini, T. (2019). From Fake to Junk News, the Data Politics of Online Virality. In D. Bigo, E. Isin, & E. Ruppert (Eds.), Data Politics: Worlds, Subjects, Rights. London: Routledge (forthcoming).

Download the chapter


The Web and its Publics

In the talk, I discuss the social and political consequences of the organization of digital media. I consider the limits of a simplistic reading of the power-law distribution of online visibility and the hopes raised by the thematic clustering and the dynamism of the Web.

I also touch on the risks that these dynamics entail exploring five series of causes (in economy, media, technology, culture and politics ) which encourage the recent proliferation of ‘junk news’ (see the post “From Fake to Junk News, the Data Politics of Online Virality” for a text detailing these causes).

Download the slides of the presentation

Confessions of a Fake News Scholar

Tommaso Venturini (2018). Confession of a Fake News Scholar (or “on to study popular subject). 68th Annual Conference – International Communication Association, Prague, 24-28 May 2018

Should we talk about “fake news”? According to several observers, we shouldn’t as this notion is vague, politically dangerous; indistinguishable from past misinformation; charged with a simplistic idea of truth, and missing the most important feature of the phenomenon it defines. Such feature is not deceptiveness, but virality – the capacity to pollute media public debate by spreading and transforming. But if virality is the defining features of fake news, then isn’t their critique another way of propagating the infection? Yes and no. Yes, if we stop at the critique. No, if we exploit it to encourage a media inquiry. Because of its simplicity, exaggeration, diffusion, rapid reproduction and mutation, fake news may be the drosophila of media studies.

Download the full paper

Download the slides of my presentation

Japanese translation of the Field Guide to ‘Fake News’

The Public Data Lab and myself are delighted to see the Japanese translation of the Field Guide to ‘Fake News’ and Other Information Disorders”. Through its various recipes we hope to inspire investigations and experiments not only around misleading content, but also the platforms, infrastructures and algorithms through which they are shared, quantified, monetised and through which they gain their viral character. Recent events serve as a reminder that this remains a vital area for research, reporting, public debate and public policy – and we look forward to seeing how the guide is used in Japan.

Download the Field Guide in Japanese

Ploughing Digital Landscapes: How Facebook Influences the Evolution of Live Video Streaming

Rein, K. & Tommaso Venturini. (2018). Ploughing Digital Landscapes: How Facebook Influences the Evolution of Live Video Streaming. New Media & Society Forthcoming. doi:10.1177/1461444817748954.

In this article, we discuss Facebook’s strategy to influence the development of a new communication format known as live video streaming. We take this case study as an example of the ways in which Web platforms operate to harness media innovations and their social uses. The case of Facebook Live illustrates exemplary how, far from developing spontaneously, media landscapes are actively shaped by the technological and financial initiatives of their more influential players. In this article, we describe how Facebook’s technical infrastructure and partnership scheme influence the editorial organisation as well as the storytelling of live video streaming.

Download the preprint

Read the article online

A Field Guide to Fake News

Today sees the launch of A Field Guide to “Fake News and Other Information Disorders, a new free and open access resource to help students, journalists and researchers investigate misleading content, memes, trolling and other phenomena associated with recent debates around “fake news”.

The field guide responds to an increasing demand for understanding the interplay between digital platforms, misleading information, propaganda and viral content practices, and their influence on politics and public life in democratic societies.

It contains methods and recipes for tracing trolling practices, the publics and modes of circulation of viral news and memes online, and the commercial underpinnings of this content. The guide aims to be an accessible learning resource for digitally-savvy students, journalists and researchers interested in this topic.

Download the field guide

Read an article presenting the project and its first results

Read an article using the methods of the guide on BuzzFeed News