© 2019

Data versus Democracy

How Big Data Algorithms Shape Opinions and Alter the Course of History


Table of contents

  1. Front Matter
    Pages i-xvii
  2. The Propaganda Problem

    1. Front Matter
      Pages 1-1
    2. Kris Shaffer
      Pages 3-18
    3. Kris Shaffer
      Pages 19-30
    4. Kris Shaffer
      Pages 31-44
  3. Case Studies

    1. Front Matter
      Pages 45-45
    2. Kris Shaffer
      Pages 47-66
    3. Kris Shaffer
      Pages 67-89
    4. Kris Shaffer
      Pages 91-108
    5. Kris Shaffer
      Pages 109-115
  4. Back Matter
    Pages 117-120

About this book


Human attention is in the highest demand it has ever been. The drastic increase in available information has compelled individuals to find a way to sift through the media that is literally at their fingertips. Content recommendation systems have emerged as the technological solution to this social and informational problem, but they’ve also created a bigger crisis in confirming our biases by showing us only, and exactly, what it predicts we want to see.
Data versus Democracy investigates and explores how, in the era of social media, human cognition, algorithmic recommendation systems, and human psychology are all working together to reinforce (and exaggerate) human bias. The dangerous confluence of these factors is driving media narratives, influencing opinions, and possibly changing election results. 

In this book, algorithmic recommendations, clickbait, familiarity bias, propaganda, and other pivotal concepts are analyzed and then expanded upon via fascinating and timely case studies: the 2016 US presidential election, Ferguson, GamerGate, international political movements, and more events that come to affect every one of us.
What are the implications of how we engage with information in the digital age? Data versus Democracy explores this topic and an abundance of related crucial questions. We live in a culture vastly different from any that has come before. In a society where engagement is currency, we are the product. Understanding the value of our attention, how organizations operate based on this concept, and how engagement can be used against our best interests is essential in responsibly equipping ourselves against the perils of disinformation.


propaganda algorithms social media disinformation misinformation attention economy cognition Cambridge Analytica GamerGate election hacking ad-tech

Authors and affiliations

  1. 1.ColoradoUSA

About the authors

Kris Shaffer, Ph.D., is a data scientist and Senior Computational Disinformation Analyst for New Knowledge. He co-authored "The Tactics and Tropes of the Internet Research Agency," a report prepared for the United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence about Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election on social media. He has consulted for multiple US government agencies, non-profits, and universities on matters related to digital disinformation, data ethics, and digital pedagogy.

In a former (professional) life, Kris was an academic and digital humanist. He has taught courses in music theory and cognition, computer science, and digital studies at Yale University, University of Colorado–Boulder, University of Mary Washington, and Charleston Southern University. He holds a PhD from Yale University.

Bibliographic information


“A very well written book that has an engaging style of writing, doesn’t become dry or bogged down in the details, but still showcases the depth of knowledge that Shaffer has on the subject. … It’s accessible and it provides a satisfying read to those looking for deep analysis of this emerging problem faced by the world.” (The Robotics Law Journal, Vol. 5 (2), September - October, 2019)