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New Knowledge Research in Alabama


From Jonathon Morgan, New Knowledge CEO:

You may have read media accounts about New Knowledge’s involvement in an off-year race for a U.S. Senate seat in Alabama in 2017. In many reports, our research is being conflated with what I can only assume is the work of others.

I’d like to set the record straight.

New Knowledge did test a Facebook page in Alabama that messaged conservatives by posting links to mainstream media stories. Our intent was to test how moderate, mainstream journalism would be received by a political audience. We did this out of concern that Americans are increasingly living in social media filter bubbles, subjected to polarizing, repetitive and artificially amplified rhetoric.

So we set out this small and sharply limited test on Facebook to see how users would respond to news articles that challenged their political views. The name of our social media manager was publicly listed as the administrator of this page.

That page attracted only a few hundred followers, and the most popular content, boosted using Facebook’s advertising tools, received at most a few thousand “likes.”

During the election, we noticed that the Twitter account of one candidate, Roy Moore, had attracted followers with accounts labeled with nonsense names in the Cyrillic alphabet. This seemed to us to be the work of internet trolls, not Russian activity. The media also noticed the likely bot accounts that had followed Roy Moore. Stories ran about thousands of such “Russian bots” linked to Moore’s Twitter account. To this day, we have no idea where these followers came from or what their purpose was.

Unfortunately, in recent reporting our Facebook experiment in Alabama has been conflated with this botnet story. Worse, a report prepared by another firm has referenced our research in a way that conflates that research with activity we didn’t conduct, and did so using language that does not reflect the intent and quality of our work.

I want to make it clear that New Knowledge did not engage or operate a botnet, and that our Facebook research in Alabama was solely meant to deepen our understanding of how people react to new information in a hyper-partisan social media environment.

New Knowledge is in the integrity business. In testing the limits of our knowledge, we aim to understand how bad actors work and counter them with good information.

Read more here.

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