On May 8 2019, Visiting Fellow Panagiotis "Takis" Metaxas spoke at the Centre about the historical development of online manipulation of the U.S.’s electoral elections, the contemporary challenges that it poses, and potential solutions as well as recommendations. Takis started his presentation with an overview of a case that has been receiving considerable media attention: the 2016 U.S. election and stressed that this was not the first occasion where online platforms had an impact on elections’ outcomes. He engaged the audience by arguing that “Fake News”, the focal concept of his presentation, is gaining more omnipresence through online search and social media technologies and is threatening the foundations of democracy.
Takis’s presentation primarily focused on providing a comprehensive historical analysis of the development of strategies and tactics of manipulation through the Web and social media. Discussing two extensively researched and well-documented cases of Google and Twitter misinformation campaigns since 2004, Takis offered an insightful account of the goals, mechanisms, and the interactions between private and public actors of various elections where fake news strategies were observed to be very influential. He argued that even after the 2016 U.S. election, where policymakers, experts, and the public were alerted about these threats, difficulties and challenges persist as technical solutions alone cannot solve the issue. He ended the presentation by encouraging the audience to think about how one perceives truth in an age where technological innovations are the dominant mediums for the dissemination of knowledge and what can be improved in the ways we interact with them.
Takis Metaxas is a Professor of Computer Science at Wellesley College, studying online social media, primarily related to the propagation of information and misinformation, prediction of political events, and in developing tools that help users evaluate the trustworthiness of information. In particular, with his Wellesley colleagues and students, he has been studying the problem of propaganda and online misinformation since 2002. He is also a Visiting Research Fellow at Oxford University's Centre for Technology and Global Affairs.