Launched in 2018, the Digital Forensics Initiative is part of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University. Led by Dr. Jonathan Albright, this initiative will explore the complex interface between news, data, and impacts through applied forensics, data reporting, network analysis, and observational and situational study. The intention is for the program to act as a resource for scholars, practitioners, and policymakers by providing timely scholarly analysis, evidence-based insights, data resources, and critical commentary through applied media analytics.
The goal of this initiative is to promote better understanding for improved reporting, research, and policy decisions. This involves in-depth investigation of the mechanisms affecting the reception, retention, and impact of information and topics in the news through a multidisciplinary, mixed methods, and computational social science approach. While the focus of the Digital Forensics Initiative involves the analysis and collection of data related to political messaging and digital campaigning, important themes and questions we seek to study include:
- What are the pathways that tend to increase and/or decrease the salience and resultant impact (i.e., behaviors and attitudes) of information online?
- What are the relative shapes of the networked information spheres and relationship structures of actors involved in politics, healthcare, science, business, entertainment, and popular culture?
- What is the relationship between bias and impact in the dissemination of information between different sources and platforms? Where do comparative differences exist, and do they matter?
- Where does the least reliable (and most biased) information tend to circulate the most? What are the key mechanisms and distribution vectors through which this process occurs?
- What are the themes in the amplification tactics involving information related to issue controversies, political debates, social activism, and other topics of high salience?
- What roles do platforms and legacy media play in the spread of unreliable information? What are the roles of professional journalists, institutional media, and independent media?
- Where (and how) do automation and inauthentic participation affect the pathways through which people are exposed to and/or are more likely to encounter certain types of information?
- What roles do content personalization, ideological preferences, geographic- and demographic-based targeting, and preferred delivery channel(s) play in the types of information people encounter?
Project lead: Jonathan Albright