Babwah Brennen, Ph.D
Media and Communication Scholar Specializing in dis/misinformation and technology policy
I am the senior policy associate at the Center on Science and Technology Policy at Duke University. I am a communication scholar and specialize in dis and misinformation, science communication, and technology policy.
Before joining the Center on Science and Technology Policy, I was a research fellow at the University of Oxford, where he led research for the Oxford Martin Programme on Misinformation, Science, and Media, which examined the interplay between media change and misinformation about science, technology, and health.
I completed his doctorate at the Hussman School of Journalism and Media at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2018. Before pursing my doctorate, I received an M.A. in mass communication from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a B.A. in chemistry from Grinnell College. I also served in the U.S. Peace Corps as a high school chemistry teacher in northern Mozambique.
Breaking Blackout Black Boxes: Roadblocks to Analyzing Platform Political Ad Bans
Center on Science & Technology. Policy
J Scott Brennen & Matt Perault
This brief details the challenges that researchers face in studying the political advertising blackouts by tech platforms during the 2020 elections.
o address these challenges, we suggest four reforms:
Federal law should require political advertisers to be more transparent. The FEC should amend an outdated Advisory Opinion that allows campaigns to use agencies as black boxes to hide their advertising spend. Legislation, such as the Honest Ads Act, could also help to require more transparency in this area.
The FEC should improve its data disclosures to facilitate political advertising research. The current system is difficult for researchers, with the FEC publishing incomplete data at uncertain intervals. The FEC should provide a clear timeline for data release.
Platforms should modify political ad libraries to increase transparency. Platforms should standardize data types and variable names, improve search functionality, and increase user access.
Federal law should require, improve, and standardize platform ad archives. Congress should consider requiring all major types of digital political ad providers to maintain standardized, publicly accessible, and searchable ad databases. It could shed a light on the black boxes described in this paper by modifying the Honest Ads Act.
Types, sources, and claims of COVID-19 misinformation
Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism
J Scott Brennen, Felix Simon, Philip N. Howard, and Rasmus Kleis Nielsen
In this RISJ factsheet we identify some of the main types, sources, and claims of COVID-19 misinformation seen so far. We analyse a sample of 225 pieces of misinformation rated false or misleading by factcheckers and published in English between January and the end of March 2020, drawn from a collection of fact-checks maintained by First Draft News.
Visuals in COVID-19 Misinformation
The International Journal of Press/Politics
J Scott Brennen, Felix Simon, and Rasmus Kleis Nielsen
This article provides one of the first analyses of visuals in misinformation concerning COVID-19. A mixed-methods analysis of ninety-six examples of visuals in misinformation rated false or misleading by independent professional fact-checkers from the first three months of 2020 identifies and examines six frames and three distinct functions of visuals in pieces of misinformation: how visuals illustrate and selectively emphasize arguments and claims, purport to present evidence for claims, and impersonate supposedly authoritative sources for claims. Notably, visuals in more than half of the pieces of misinformation analyzed explicitly serve as evidence for false claims, most of which are mislabelled rather than manipulated. While this analysis uncovered a small number of manipulated visuals, all were produced using simple tools; there were no examples of “deepfakes” or other artificial intelligence-based techniques. In recognizing the diverse functions of visuals in misinformation and drawing on recent literature on scientific visualization, this article demonstrates the value in both attending to visual content in misinformation and expanding our focus beyond a concern with only the representational aspects and functions of misinformation.
The coverage of cultured meat in the US and UK traditional media, 2013–2019: drivers, sources, and competing narratives
James Painter, J Scott Brennen, Silje Kristiansen
‘Cultured’ meat has attracted a considerable amount of investor and media interest as an early-stage technology. Despite uncertainties about its future impact, news media may be contributing to promissory discourses, by stressing the potential benefits from cultured meat to the environment, health, animal welfare, and feeding a growing population. The results from a content analysis of 255 articles from 12 US and UK traditional media from 2013 to 2019 show that much of the coverage is prompted by the industry sector, whose representatives are also the most quoted. Positive narratives about cultured meat are much more prominent than cautionary ones. Our findings support previous scholarship on other emerging technologies which concluded that with important variations, media treatments are largely positive.
Formulating Deformation: The Flows of Formless Information
International Journal of Communication
J Scott Brennen
If misinformation is information without truth, this article recognizes deformation as a set of processes through which information loses its organization. Deformation grants audiences and intermediaries the agency and the burden to refashion bits, pieces, and fragments of information into coherent and meaningful formulations. Though not necessarily problematic, deformation functions as a pervasive precondition of information disorder. After deductively deriving the concept of deformation, this article presents a case study involving the public communication of physics that describes some of the forces that can facilitate deformation, including challenges of organizational coordination, economic incentives, and technical affordances. This article argues that studies of misinformation should attend better to the informational environment while recognizing that the continuity of information across time and space should be regarded as an achievement.
Balancing Product Reviews, Traffic Targets, and Industry Criticism: UK Technology Journalism in Practice
J Scott Brennen, Philip N Howard, & Rasmus Kleis Nielsen
Despite growing expectations that technology journalists serve as critical watchdogs of the technology industry, technology journalism remains under-studied in journalism studies. Drawing on the hierarchy of influences model to analyze semi-structured interviews with UK technology journalists and editors, this article investigates how journalists strategically navigate relationships with the technology industry and how these relationships influence reporting practices. Providing a needed examination of day-to-day technology reporting practice, the article demonstrates how journalists manage a range of pressures, limitations, and challenges. In doing so, it shows that, in how it is defined and practiced, technology journalism remains interlaced with the technology industry in ways that may undercut growing calls for critical, rigorous, and independent technology reporting. Ultimately, this article makes the case for treating technology journalism as a distinct field of inquiry.
What to expect when you’re expecting robots: Futures, expectations, and pseudo-artificial general intelligence in UK news
J Scott Brennen, Philip N Howard, & Rasmus Kleis Nielsen
Drawing on scholarship in journalism studies and the sociology of expectations, this article demonstrates how news media shape, mediate, and amplify expectations surrounding artificial intelligence in ways that influence their potential to intervene in the world. Through a critical discourse analysis of news content, this article describes and interrogates the persistent expectation concerning the widescale social integration of AI-related approaches and technologies. In doing so, it identifies two techniques through which news outlets mediate future-oriented expectations surrounding AI: choosing sources and offering comparisons. Finally, it demonstrates how in employing these techniques, outlets construct the expectation of a pseudo-artificial general intelligence: a collective of technologies capable of solving nearly any problem.
Cues for Increasing Social Presence for Mobile Health App Adoption
Journal of Health Communication
Allison J. Lazard, J Scott Brennen, Elizabeth Trouthman Adams, & Brad Love
As mobile health apps become increasingly influential in daily life, they present an important opportunity for health communication for disease prevention. User impressions of app designs are influential for adoption. Using cues to increase feelings of being with others (social presence) is one way to encourage favorable impressions and health app adoption. To examine the impact of social context cues (conversation cues vs. community cues vs. no cue control) on two forms of social presence (emergent and transcendent social presence), we conducted an online experiment (n = 587) with US adults. We also examined the indirect effects of conversation and community cues through social presence on app trust, perceived ease of use, perceived usefulness, and intentions to use the app. We found that conversational cues elicited intended feelings for new, emergent interactions and that community cues increased perceptions of ongoing or established social formations for transcendent interactions. These cues also had positive indirect effects for increased trust, perceived usefulness, and intentions to use the health apps and should be considered when developing mHealth to improve uptake and delivery of health promotion online.
Multimodal mental models: Understanding users’ design expectations for mHealth apps
Journal of Health Informatics
J Scott Brennen, Allison J. Lazard, & Elizabeth Trouthman Adams
Employing qualitative structured interviews with mobile health app users, this research describes shared mental models for mHealth and reveals their complexity. The findings uncover prototypical design components common to mental models beyond health apps and suggest that users’ mental models are multimodal, containing distinct and often contradictory dimensions for evaluations of aesthetics and for craftsmanship. The findings also indicate that users’ mental models are informed by experiences with apps from across the mobile landscape. This research suggests that designers of consumer mobile health apps and mobile health interventions should incorporate prototypical or salient features. In doing so, they should index designs to trends across the larger app landscape and innovate the means to balance between multidimensional and conflicting mental models.
The SENSE of Nuclear Physics: New Frontiers, Media, and Collaborations
Science in Context
J Scott Brennen
This article describes the efforts of one fifty-year-old nuclear physics research center to stay relevant as the boundaries of nuclear physics have expanded and distributed collaborations have become increasingly common. In adapting to these shifts, SENSE, a university-based institute in the United States, has seen notable changes in power relations, forms of legitimation, and social structures. This article recognizes and investigates these changes through an interpretative investigation of four common media objects incorporated into research practice at the institute: collaboration wikis, telephones, computer simulations, and government reports. In doing so, this article adopts an approach from media studies through which hard-to-see changes in social and cultural life can be investigated by observing media objects in research practice. Ultimately, this article tells the story of a research organization and an entire discipline working to adapt to a rapidly changing scientific landscape.
Present: Senior policy associate at the Center on Science and Technology Policy at Duke University
2018-2020: Post-doctoral Research Fellow, Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism and the Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford
2018, PhD University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Advisor: Daniel Kreiss
2013, M.A. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
2008, B.A. with Honors in Chemistry, Grinnell College, Iowa
scott.brennen at duke.edu