“Russia, Cambridge Analytica, and What Else? Groups and Targets behind Divisive Issue Campaigns on Facebook”
In light of foreign interference in elections and Cambridge Analytica scandal, the talk poses a question of whether data-driven, algorithm-based digital media such as Facebook have become stealth media for undisclosed political campaigns. The talk presents Kim and her team’s empirical research on anonymous groups’ disinformation campaigns on Facebook including “Stealth Media? Groups and Targets behind Divisive Issue Campaigns (Kim et al., 2018, Political Communication) and follow-up studies in progress.
By utilizing user-based, real-time, digital ad tracking tool, Kim’s team, Project DATA (Digital Ad Tracking & Analysis), collected 87 million ads exposed to 17,000 months leading up to the 2016 elections that included 5 million paid ad impressions on Facebook exposed to 9,519 individuals between September 28 to November 8, 2016. Kim’s research revealed the prevalence of “suspicious” groups—unidentifiable, untraceable groups that do not have any public footprints. One out of six suspicious groups later turned out to be Kremlin-linked Russian groups. Such undisclosed groups clearly targeted battleground states including Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, where Democratic strongholds turned to support Trump by razor-thin margins. The present research offers insight relevant for regulatory policies and discusses the normative implications for the functioning of democracy.
About Young Mie Kim
Young Mie Kim is a Professor of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication and a Faculty Affiliate of the Department of Political Science.
Kim’s research concerns media and politics in the age of data-driven digital media, specifically the role digital media play in political communication among political leaders, non-party groups (issue advocacy groups), and citizens.
Kim’s recent research project, Project DATA (Digital Ad Tracking & Analysis), empirically investigates the sponsors/sources, content, and targets of digital political campaigns across multiple platforms with a user-based, real-time, ad tracking tool that reverse engineers the algorithms of political campaigns. The project uncovers the “behind-the-scenes” operations of digital political campaigns, i.e., microtargeting practices (individual-level voter identification, targeting, and message placement and customization strategies).
Kim’s research, “The Stealth Media? Groups and Targets behind Divisive Issue Campaigns on Facebook,” identified “suspicious groups,” including Russian groups on Facebook. Her work appeared on nearly 400 national and international media (WIRED; Bloomberg TV; BBC5) outlets. Kim also actively engages in public scholarship to work toward policy solutions for malicious actors’ disinformation campaigns and microtargeting on digital platforms. Kim testified at the Federal Election Commission‘s hearings on the rulemaking of internet communication disclaimers. She presented her research and provided expert opinions at the Congressional briefings on foreign interference in elections, the Honest Ads Act, and other technology policy matters. Kim was also invited by the European Data Protection Supervisor, the European Union’s data protection authority, to speak at the European Parliament on her research on data-driven political advertising and inequality in political involvement.
During her faculty career, Kim’s research has developed a program of research on how the digital media environment contributes to the changing foundation of political communication. Her research theoretically explains and empirically demonstrates that the digital media environment has set a condition to facilitate the development of passionate publics who care about a particular issue almost exclusively based on their values, identities, and self-interests. Kim’s research also demonstrates that in the data-driven digital age, political actors—including malicious foreign groups—identify, target, and mobilize passionate publics. Kim’s research illuminates the contemporary outlook of passionate issue publics, issue advocacy groups, and political leaders in the age of data-driven digital media.
Kim’s research has appeared in the flagship journals in the fields of Communication and Political Science including Communication Research, the Journal of Communication, and the Journal of Politics, among others. Her work has also received prestigious awards and research grants in social science, including the Best Article of the Year Award (awarded for the best published article on political communication across the fields of Communication, Political Science, and Sociology) and the Nafzinger-White Dissertation Award (awarded for the best dissertation in Mass Communication).
Kim has been teaching 15 different courses on a wide range of subjects including digital media, political communication, mass communication, and strategic communication. Integrating her research expertise and her passion for public service, Kim has developed a service learning course, Communication and Community Service: Technology for Social Change, where her students partner with a community organization and experiment with the democratic potential of digital communication technologies. The class project, Savor South Madison, garnered a number of accolades including the Best Service Learning Practice and the Innovator in Community-Campus Partnership.
Kim received her Ph.D. from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and was a Visiting Fellow of the Oxford Internet Institute at the University of Oxford, United Kingdom. As the Microsoft Visiting Professor of the Center for Information Technology Policy, Kim also taught a course, Politics in the Age of Digital Media, in the Department of Politics at Princeton University.