Media Cloud

U.S. Election Study

 Partisanship, Propaganda, and Disinformation: Online Media and the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election

Authored by Rob Faris, Hal Roberts, Bruce Etling, Nikki Bourassa, Ethan Zuckerman, and Yochai Benkler


Key Findings

This site serves as the home for the data that acts as the basis for a years-long study of the 2016 U.S. presidential election by the Berkman Klein Center at Harvard University and the Media Cloud project.  In this study, we analyze both mainstream and social media coverage of the 2016 United States presidential election. Some of the key findings from the study include:

  • Donald Trump succeeded in shaping the election agenda.  
  • The media landscape is distinctly asymmetric.
  • The center-left and the far right are the principal poles of the media landscape  
  • Conservative media disrupted.
  • On the most widely covered topic of the election, immigration, Breitbart was the most prominent site. On Twitter, it is far above the rest.
  • Disinformation and propaganda are rooted in partisanship and are more prevalent on social media.
  • Disproportionate popularity on Facebook is a strong indicator of highly partisan and unreliable media.
  • Asymmetric vulnerabilities: The right and left were subject to media manipulation in different ways.

The Data

This study was based primarily on four data sets, collected and analyzed using the Media Cloud platform as Media Cloud "topics":

  • a topic of 2 million stories about the election discovered by searching the Media Cloud archive and spidering the open web;
  • a topic of nearly 1 million stories about the election discovered by harvesting urls from tweets relevant to the election;
  • a topic of 145 thousand stories about immigration discovered by searching the Media Cloud archive and spidering the open web;
  • a topic of 185 thousand stories about immigration discovered by harvesting urls from tweets relevant to the election.

We are releasing all of the data from each of these data sets through this site, in two forms.  First, we offer csv dumps of the stories, media sources, story links, and media source links for each of the above topics.  Those CSV dumps are available at the Harvard Dataverse.

Explore Online

We are also making each of these topics available through the Media Cloud topics tool, which providers an interface to browse through the data down to individual stories and media sources.  Among other features, the topics tool allows the user to find which stories and media sources receive the most links, to view which stories link to a specific story, to analyze the most frequently used words in a given topic or media source, to download link network maps, and to analyze the topic by audience partisanship.

To use the topics tool, first register for a Media Cloud account, then click on one of the below topics:

Our Community

Finally, this is a big complex data set which we have spent the better part of the last two years trying to understand.  Our study leaves many open research questions that we hope other researchers will investigate.  To make the best use of our data and tools and connect to the larger community of people using Media Cloud to study this and other topics, we strongly suggest that you join the Media Cloud user group.


    Media Coverage About this Report

    Down the Breitbart Hole (New York Times Magazine, 8/2017)

    Study: Breitbart-led right-wing media ecosystem altered broader media agenda (Columbia Journalism Review, 3/2017)