The Disinformation Project is an independent research group studying misinformation and disinformation in Aotearoa New Zealand. Since February 2020, we have used mixed methods approaches to analyse and review the seed and spread of information disorders – and their impact on the lives of New Zealanders.
Our grounded research makes use of mixed methods, combining open-source and quantitative data from a range of social media platforms, cross-pollination patterns, super-spreader signatures, semantic study, and the qualitative analysis data, including discourse shifts over time. Our approach to information disorders provides unique perspectives into misinformation and disinformation’s establishment, entrenchment and expansion in Aotearoa New Zealand.
We produce publicly available research, sensitive reporting, media commentary, and resourcing for civil society seeking to respond to information disorders, and growing offline consequences, in their communities.
Aotearoa New Zealand is experiencing an infodemic, where the Covid-19 pandemic furthered the spread of misinformation and disinformation, impacting social cohesion and over the longer term, the country’s democratic fabric and electoral integrity. We help social media companies, journalists, academia, policymakers, and civil society to identify, understand, unpack and meaningfully respond to information disorders.
Kate Hannah, Director
Kate Hannah is a cultural historian of science and technology who works within and across cultural history, critical science and technology studies, and public understanding of science and technology. Hannah has extensive experience in research translation, strategic communications, policy development, and community engagement.
Her research interests include gender, ‘race’, eugenics, colonization and white supremacism in historic and contemporary science and technology cultures and subcultures. Hannah is one of two New Zealand representatives on GPAI’s Responsible AI Working Group and is leading a research project developing principles for community consultation on classification and mitigation of online harm for GPAI. Hannah is the Director of The Disinformation Project, and was previously a Principal Investigator with Te Pūnaha Matatini. She is currently a PhD candidate at the Centre for Science and Society at Te Herenga Waka – Victoria University of Wellington.
Hannah has led the Disinformation Project since its inception in early 2020. She provides rich and critical insight to the Disinformation Project, ensuring our work is reflective of the communities we serve. Hannah’s interrogation of information disorders embrace how Aotearoa New Zealand’s communities have differential experiences of past pandemics, different measures of health and wellbeing, and different experiences of state services and state intervention.
She recognises that the pandemic and infodemic are also taking place within different nation-states, with different political systems, worldviews, and approaches to healthcare and the role of government. Inspiring the work at and creation of The Disinformation Project, she identified how COVID-19 disinformation is linked to online or physical harm, dissenting or fringe views related to a number of conspiratorial narratives, and hateful or violent expression.
Guiding her work are questions around how disinformation narratives targeting and radicalising people in Aotearoa and internationally, how information disorders relate to narratives and tropes of white supremacy, racism, and extreme misogyny, the role of media, and the impact of the infodemic on social cohesion, tolerance and democracy.
Sanjana Hattotuwa, Research Fellow
A TED, Rotary World Peace and Ashoka Fellow, Dr. Sanjana Hattotuwa’s doctoral research at the University of Otago examined the intersection of social media, political communication, propaganda and information disorders in Sri Lanka, as well as how the Christchurch massacre in March 2019 was represented on Twitter. The research on Christchurch was based on Aotearoa New Zealand’s first ever Data for Good grant by Twitter, with the National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies (NCPACS). He has written extensively about the nurture and nature of information disorders in Aotearoa New Zealand, and in March 2021 organised a conference on social media’s role in democracy, embracing a wide range of perspectives and speakers, including Nobel Peace Laureate Maria Ressa.
Since 2002, Dr. Hattotuwa has used, studied and advocated Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) to strengthen peace, human rights & democratic governance. He pioneered the use of social media for activism and citizen journalism in Sri Lanka, and started South Asia’s first Twitter and Facebook accounts for civic media and election monitoring, in 2007.
Specialising in and advising on social media communications strategy, digital security for journalists and human rights defenders, social media activism, online advocacy and grounded, mixed-methods social media research, Dr. Hattotuwa’s experience in studying, negotiating and developing policies against information disorders spans two-decades, and work in South Asia, South East Asia, North Africa, the United States, Europe and the Balkans. Since 2006, he has been a Special Advisor at the ICT4Peace Foundation, leading the work around technology for peacebuilding, humanitarian aid and peacekeeping.
He regularly gives input to leading social media companies on how they can strengthen platform integrity, better identify inauthentic behaviours, malevolent constellations, and prevent the abuse of products. After disturbing developments in Myanmar, Afghanistan and Ukraine, he also advises leading social companies on how to best deal with wartime ground conditions, do no harm, and navigate predominantly militarised contexts.
In his spare time, he works on perfecting a mercurial Instagram algorithm to predominantly show golden retrievers, labradors, other dogs, cats, funny memes, good design, Mediterranean life and art (not necessarily in that order). It is a work in progress, the results of which are shared with long-suffering friends, who are lessening in number every year.
Kayli Taylor, Researcher
Kayli Taylor is a researcher and writer with a background in social history. Kayli has worked with the Disinformation Project since 2021.
Their Masters thesis examined a history of student activism in response to the issue of sexual violence on university campuses in Aotearoa New Zealand from 1980-2020. Using archival materials, oral history interviews, and policy analysis; Kayli explored these historic shifts and the institutional responses from universities.
Kayli’s work with the Disinformation Project continues these analyses of power – interrogating the way systems of power influence society.
In her spare time, Kayli enjoys reading, travelling, and drafting tweets she never sends.