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Follow the Ad: Uncovering Election Interference behind Data-Driven Digital Platforms | Shorenstein Center
Election interference raises grave normative concerns. Unfortunately, due to conceptual and methodological challenges, little scientific knowledge has been generated about election interference. This talk discusses the mechanisms by which election interference occurred and the extent to which it influenced the electorate. The talk presents Kim’s research on covert digital campaigns by unidentifiable, unattributable groups ahead of the 2016 US elections. Kim’s analysis is based on large-scale political ad data that her team, Project DATA (Digital Ad Tracking & Analysis), collected independently from tech platforms by utilizing a user-based, real-time, ad-tracking tool and “reverse engineering” techniques. Kim’s research uncovers the prevalence of foreign and domestic “suspicious” groups (i.e., unidentifiable, unattributable, untraceable groups that do not leave any public footprint) and their targeting, messaging, and organizational strategies and tactics (e.g., voter suppression and asymmetric [de]mobilization). Furthermore, it reveals the structure of covert coordination that facilitated the deep penetration of election interference campaigns into the electorate. The talk offers insight into regulatory policies and discusses the implications for the functioning of democracy.