Focus areas: Media, development, innovation, media in Africa and the extractive sector

Anya Schiffrin is the director of the Technology, Media, and Communications at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs and a lecturer who teaches on global media, innovation and human rights.  She writes on journalism and development, investigative reporting in the global south and has published extensively over the last decade on the media in Africa. More recently she has become focused on solutions to the problem of online disinformation, earning her PHD on the topic from the University of Navarra.  She is the editor of Global Muckraking: 100 Years of Investigative Reporting from Around the World (New Press, 2014) and African Muckraking: 75 years of Investigative journalism from Africa (Jakana 2017).  She is the editor of Media Capture: How Money, Digital Platforms and Governments Control the News (Columbia University Press 2021)

Research & Publications

November 2020|Forum on Information and Democracy|Anya Schiffrin, Maria Ressa, Marietje Schaake, Sinan Aral, Julia Cagé, Ronald Deibert, Camille François, Roukaya Kasenally, David Kaye, Edison Lanza, Roger McNamee, Jun Murai, Peter Pomerantsev, Julie Posetti, Vivian Schiller, Wolfgang Schulz, Christopher Wylie

Launched in 2019 by 11 non-governmental organizations and research centres, the Forum on Information and Democracy created a working group on infodemics in June to devise a “regulatory framework” to respond to the information chaos on online platforms and social media. After five months of work, this group published a detailed report with 250 recommendations for governments and digital platforms which identifies four structural challenges and proposes concrete solutions for each of them.

September 2020|Roosevelt Institute|Anya Schiffrin

This report surveys the impact of online political ads on election outcomes, examines the current regulatory landscape in the US and in Europe around mis/disinformation online, and proposes a set of policy solutions to curb the spread of false information, enhance disclosure requirements for paid political communications, strengthen privacy regulations, and restore transparency to political messaging in the US.

July 2020|Universidad de Navarra|Anya Schiffrin

The premise of this dissertation is that 2016 was the year that societies began to understand the dangers of online/mis disinformation and decided to fund and implement solutions even though they had not been fully researched or tested. Many of the fixes were, in fact, based on the financial interests or belief systems of the people doing them. We provide a taxonomy of the variety of initiatives aimed at solving the problem, with the objective of enhancing our understanding of the strengths and limitations of each. The “solutions” we compare and contrast in this research include fact-checking initiatives and projects by journalists to promote community engagement, media literacy programs, technical fixes such as using natural language processing/AI to block false and/or inflammatory content and finally government regulation. Drawing on dozens of interviews with funders, journalists and regulators as well as archival material and including an exhaustive bibliography, this dissertation looks at the universe of solutions in an organized, structured way and concludes with policy proposals to help promote democracy.

September 2019|German Marshall Fund of the United States|Anya Schiffrin, Ellen Goodman

On both sides of the Atlantic, governments, foundations, and companies are looking at how to solve the problem of online dis/misinformation. Some emphasize the demand side of the problem, believing it important to focus on consumer behavior and the use of media literacy and fact-checking. Some focus on legal remedies such as platform-liability and hate-speech laws as well as privacy protections. Meanwhile, others try to raise the quality of journalism and support local news in the hope that creating more reliable content will be a counterweight to the dis/misinformation found online.

In short, there are myriad solutions aimed at addressing the problem of online dis/misinformation. This study looks at one kind of fix: the small companies in the information ecosystem that use natural language processing as well as human intelligence to identify and, in some cases, block false or inflammatory content online. This paper examines thirteen such companies, most of which are building solutions to identify false information online through a combination of people and natural language processing. Nascent and not yet widespread, these businesses are seeking to find new commercial applications for their products and, in some cases, hoping to entice the social media platforms to buy them out.