PeakMetrics and University of Pennsylvania Research Group Launch Partnership around an ambitious research agenda to study misinformation and its impact on democracy

July 16th 2020

Los Angeles-based media intelligence company, PeakMetrics, and University of Pennsylvania research group headed by principal investigator Duncan J. Watts today announce a partnership to support an ambitious collective research agenda to study misinformation and its impact on democracy. As part of the partnership, PeakMetrics will deliver key data required for the research initiative and serve as an industry partner for the research group.

In the past years, the deliberate spread of misinformation online, and on social media in particular, has generated extraordinary concern.  As a response, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania are developing a new lab with the multipart, comprehensive goal of understanding the origins, nature, and consequences of misinformation on democracy.  

The goals of the research agenda include developing a large-scale data infrastructure for studying news over time and across the entire information ecosystem (including online news, TV/radio, and social), a “mass collaboration model” that leverages shared infrastructure to advanced replicable and useful science, a program for communicating insights generated by research to outside stakeholders (such as journalists, industry leaders and the public), and a network of academic-industry partnerships around data and solutions.

PeakMetrics, a platform which helps organizations continuously track the information environment and measure how messages develop from channel to channel, has built one of the most comprehensive datasets of news stories, social posts, and TV/radio.  This prior work serves a key gap in the data infrastructure required to support research on the information ecosystem. The company recently completed the Techstars Air Force accelerator.  

Watts and his collaborators bring a wealth of expertise in leveraging data for polling, prediction markets, public policy, and public opinion as well as prior work in studying misinformation.  Watts’ work exploring how influence and ideas spread across networks has led to multiple major awards and three books — “Everything is Obvious (Once You Know the Answer),” “Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age,” and “Small Worlds: The Dynamics of Networks Between Order and Randomness”.  The team’s research has previously been published in leading publications such as Columbia Journalism Review and the Harvard Business Review.

“Research on misinformation and its effects is currently dependent on data sets that are idiosyncratic, one-off, and often small in scale, rendering comparisons across different modes of media consumption, different sample populations, and different time periods difficult to make. Much of the relevant data is hard to collect, either because it is scattered across thousands of locations in different formats, or is controlled by private companies.  PeakMetrics serves as a key partner, as a leading provider in commercial media analysis and as a technical collaborator.” said Watts.  

Nick Loui, CEO of PeakMetrics, added “Duncan and his team bring years of experience in data-driven research, machine learning, and its applicability to comprehensive media analysis and we look forward to leveraging our work towards one of the most critical challenges of our generation.” 

With misinformation and a key election on the horizon for the year, the group looks to begin its collaboration and sharing research with external stakeholders in the coming weeks.     

About PeakMetrics

PeakMetrics is a technology company that leverages analytics to shift media narrative and develop successful digital content faster. Boasting a growing database of over 1,000,000 journalists and continuously aggregating millions of stories, the company’s innovative AI system tracks, analyzes, and combines data to proactively measure media in real-time. Harnessing the potential of their data, the company continues to develop new products that help communications professionals navigate today’s complex media landscape.  Over 2,000 media professionals from the advocacy, non-profit, and corporate world use the platform. The company has been funded by Harmony Labs, a non-profit organization that seeks to understand how media influence works at scale, and is a Techstars backed company. 

About Duncan Watts

Duncan Watts is the Stevens University Professor and twenty-third Penn Integrates Knowledge Professor at the University of Pennsylvania. He holds faculty appointments in the Department of Computer and Information Science in the School of Engineering and Applied Science, the Annenberg School of Communication, and the Department of Operations, Information and Decisions in the Wharton School, where he is the inaugural Rowan Fellow. His research on social networks and collective dynamics has appeared in a wide range of journals, from Nature, Science, and Physical Review Letters to the American Journal of Sociology and Harvard Business Review, and has been recognized by the 2009 German Physical Society Young Scientist Award for Socio and Econophysics, the 2013 Lagrange-CRT Foundation Prize for Complexity Science, and the 2014 Everett M. Rogers Award. In 2018, he was named an inaugural fellow of the Network Science Society. Most recently he was named a 2020 Carnegie Fellow.