August 28, 2018
During the spring 2018 semester, Honors students Katie Kovarik and Addyson Jackson assisted Dr. Tricia Jenkins, Associate Professor of Film, Television & Digital Media, with research relating to Russian interference in U.S. politics through social media. Their findings have been synthesized in Dr. Jenkins’ academic article, “What Did Russian Trolls Want During the 2016 Election? A Closer Look at the Internet Research Agency’s Active Measures,” published by War on the Rocks last month. For the two undergraduate students, this was their first collegiate research experience, and it has led to an extraordinary opportunity. This fall, they will travel to the University of Oxford with Dr. Jenkins to present their research at this year’s Internet, Politics, and Policy academic conference.
Under the direction of Dr. Jenkins, Kovarik and Jackson began investigating Russian posts made on mainstream social media platforms—Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram. Previous research informed them of Russian accounts that centered on controversial ideological beliefs held by many Americans. The accounts were meant to appear as though they originated from Americans and attempted to increase cultural polarization. Kovarik and Jackson coded posts from these accounts, which were created by Russians and responsible for organizing collective action and protest in the United States. As Jackson puts it, their data “has led to a much deeper understanding of the political climate in our current landscape.”
The Internet, Politics, and Policy academic conference series takes place biennially and is sponsored by the Oxford Internet Institute. This year, the theme is “Long Live Democracy,” as participants consider the impact of a digital world on democratic processes. The Honors College is proudly co-sponsoring the travel for Kovarik and Jackson, which is an opportunity Kovarik describes as priceless. She looks forward to receiving feedback from a global academic audience. For Kovarik and Jackson, presenting at a noteworthy academic conference under the mentorship of Dr. Jenkins, marks an exciting and extremely successful start to an early career in research.