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New CDT Report Addresses Knowledge Gap at Intersection of Disinformation, Race, and Gender

The Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT) today released a new report identifying research gaps in our understanding of the link between race and gender in disinformation campaigns.

“Some civil society groups have already engaged in work to understand and address the impacts of mis- and disinformation on communities of color and across gender identity. Unfortunately, there is still not a lot of scholarship among many traditional research organizations (e.g., universities, think tanks, policy centers, etc.) that looks at patterns and impacts on people of color, women, LGBTQIA+ communities, and other voices that are less prominent in mainstream political discourse in the U.S.,” says CDT Research Director Dhanaraj Thakur, who co-authored the report with CDT Research Manager DeVan Hankerson Madrigal.

The report–which draws on papers presented during a September meeting CDT convened with international and interdisciplinary experts–identifies key research questions about how race and gender are used in disinformation efforts. It also makes recommendations for how to tackle the related methodological and technical problems that researchers and others face in addressing these topics.

Some of the experts whose work is covered in the report include: Gabrielle Bardell, Principal, Herizon Democracy and Research Fellow, Centre for International Policy Studies (CIPS), University of Ottawa; Deen Freelon, Associate Professor, School of Media and Journalism, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Lucina Di Meco, Women’s Political Participation Expert; Mutale Nkonde, Founder AI for the People and Faculty Fellow, Institute for Advanced Study, University of Notre Dame; Saiph Savage, Assistant Professor, Department of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering, West Virginia University; and Kristina Wilfore, Lecturer, Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University.

“Policy conversations can sometimes miss a key point of disinformation campaigns, which are sometimes intentionally designed to exploit existing forms of discrimination and often target people based on race, gender identity, or both,” says Hankerson Madrigal. “We’re calling on the research community to better measure the degree and methods of coordination among those involved in disinformation campaigns and to what extent their coordination is maintained through shared views of patriarchy and/or white supremacy.”

Thakur says, “It’s essential to close this knowledge gap. Only then can the policy community be equipped to develop solutions to mitigate the harm disinformation inflicts on all our communities and U.S. democratic institutions.”

The report, Facts and their Discontents: A Research Agenda for Disinformation, Race, and Gender, is made possible by a grant from the John S. And James L. Knight Foundation and is part of a series designed to determine how to build a more informed society.

This was last updated February 17, 2021.