Addressing Misinformation in Digital Markets

April 24, 2023

Dr. David Broniatwoski

Dr. David Broniatowski, Associate Professor in the Department of Engineering Management and Systems Engineering and Associate Director of the Institute for Data, Democracy & Politics (IDDP), was cited in the 2023 Economic Report of the President (ERP). The ERP is an annual report produced by the Council of Economic Advisors that presents the Administration’s domestic and international economic policies. It also provides an overview of the nation’s economic progress with text and extensive data appendices.

The Report begins with a reflection by President Biden about the Administration’s economic accomplishments as well as the opportunities and challenges ahead. From there, nine chapters follow ranging in topics from pursuing growth-enhancing policies in today’s changing world to opportunities for better managing weather risk in the changing climate. Broniatowski was cited in Chapter 7, Competition in the Digital Economy: New Technologies, Old Economics.

Broniatowski and his colleagues, J. Ayers, B. Chu, Z. Zhu, E. Leas, D. Smith, and M. Dredze, cited work was the study, “Spread of Misinformation About Face Masks and COVID-19 by Automated Software on Facebook.” In this study, the team used public Facebook data to show that a misinterpretation of a scientific article about face masks was artificially amplified by existing networks of political actors on Facebook. This amplification made the misinformation have a broader reach and appear as if there is widespread agreement on the misinformation even though there is not. This study is important because it shows that even scientific articles can be used to spread misinformation when networked actors misinterpret these articles and take them out of context.

While the Report focuses on economic matters, digital markets also have tremendous societal implications. In Box 7.1, the Report addresses these to note how digital markets exacerbate political polarization and can easily spread misinformation and other hateful content such as racism, sexism, and discrimination. The Report uses Broniatowski and colleagues’ paper as an example of how bots were found to play a role in spreading and amplifying misinformation during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Broniatowski said, "My coauthors and I greatly appreciate the inclusion of a discussion of the social consequences of digital markets in the President's 2023 Economic Report. Online harms, such as those documented in our paper, are now, unfortunately, widespread. We are gratified that the administration is taking an expansive approach to its evaluation of these crucial new technologies and infrastructures so that policymakers can consider taking actions necessary to mitigate these harms."