Under the direction of Dr. Samuel Woolley, the propaganda research lab at the Center for Media Engagement (CME) studies how emergent technologies are used in global political communication. The lab focuses on the use of social media and other digital tools to manipulate public opinion (known as computational propaganda) and to spread misinformation and disinformation. From this perspective, the propaganda lab has revealed the many ways in which political groups within the United States and abroad have leveraged digital technologies to control information flows online, with substantial and damaging offline consequences.

Central to the propaganda lab’s numerous projects are three main lines of inquiry. First, our work on encrypted messaging apps shapes international debate on the manipulative political use of end-to-end encrypted (E2E) chat applications such as WhatsApp, Telegram, and Signal. While continuing to conduct research on the U.S. use of these apps (with a focus on diaspora communities), the team is expanding the research into new geographical areas such as Southeast Asia and the Middle East, with the aim of delivering comparative analysis.

Second, the team conducts ongoing research that explores the connections between digital surveillance using geolocation tools and resultant political micro-targeting and social media disinformation campaigns. Included in this research is a roundtable report on mass surveillance in the age of mass protest, which was conducted in partnership with the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project (S.T.O.P.).

Third, the Data and Democracy (D&D) project serves as the computational and quantitative division of the propaganda lab. Members collaborate on projects that leverage natural language processing, network analysis, and machine learning approaches to understand how political actors use computational propaganda and misinformation alongside violence, offline harassment, and digital harm. This project, led by Dr. Josephine Lukito, focuses on multi-digital platform research and the relationship between online communication and offline actions within the context of propaganda and disinformation.

For more of our work, please see our white papers, publications, quick reads, or press appearances.