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The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

PROFILE: As 2024 Election Looms, Professor Leticia Bode Tackles Misinformation in Politics

From working on Capitol Hill to taking classes on congressional reporting, Georgetown University students often immerse themselves in the American political landscape. 

In an increasingly digital age, however, the new threat of online misinformation has been growing and changing ways in which voters engage with issues and candidates on the internet. 

With a contentious presidential election just months away, fact-checking experts report that misinformation, information that is incorrect, and disinformation, or deliberate misinformation, are more prominent than ever.

Leticia Bode, a professor in Georgetown University’s Communication, Culture and Technology (CCT) graduate program, aims to profile and understand these changes as they impact society.

Bode said counteractive methods, such as specific corrections on false and misleading posts, are highly effective in creating a healthier media environment. 

“When you correct misinformation, you’re not just correcting the person that shared the misinformation; everybody that sees that has the opportunity to be affected by that information as well,” Bode told The Hoya. “And our research shows that that turns out to be fairly powerful, as far as interventions go, at helping people update their beliefs on the topic.”

Bode began working in the CCT program, which takes an interdisciplinary approach to studying the impact of technology on society, as an assistant professor in 2012, later becoming an associate professor in 2018. She has also worked as an affiliate faculty member in Georgetown’s government department and Massive Data Institute, a research institute at the McCourt School of Public Policy that conducts data-centric research to influence policy making.

Bode said that in an age marked by rising technology and social media, users have access to a plethora of information from an array of sources, some targeted at the interests of users.

“You’re choosing your network, you’re choosing what platforms you want to use — all of those sorts of things are individually driven, but because of the nature of user-generated content, you opt into certain information flows,” Bode said.

Studying Misinformation at Georgetown

Bode said pure luck brought her to the Hilltop when she came across the job listing on Georgetown’s website. 

“I work in political science, I work in communications and I work in information studies,” Bode said. “That was kind of the perfect fit for what I do and who I am as a scholar. It was really lucky that that job was available when it was.”

In 2019, Bode received the honor of Provost Distinguished Associate Professor in the CCT, an award that honors professors who are performing at “extraordinarily high levels.” 

Since joining the Georgetown community, Bode has taught an array of courses on disinformation and misinformation, including her current class “Misinformation and Society,” which covers the concepts of true and false information, as well as efforts to mitigate the effects of misinformation in society.

Ana Cuadra (GRD ’24), a CCT student studying technology and democracy, said Bode inspired her interest in media and politics through engaging coursework and her passion for misinformation research.

“I took Professor Bode’s Misinformation and Society course my first semester at CCT, and it marked my path to this program,” Cuadra wrote to The Hoya. “I found a new interest in everything related to information. After her course, most of my research for class has been centered on studying the dynamics of misinformation on social media platforms.”

According to Cuadra, though her interests initially revolved around the intersections between technology and culture, working alongside Bode inspired her to research the ways in which technology can enhance democracy and civic engagement.

Though Bode said social media is far from the only place where misinformation spreads, she feels particularly inspired to study social media because of its status as an ever-present method of communication.

“The motivation is to just promote a healthier information ecosystem,” Bode said. “We want people to be able to make reasonable choices for themselves and their families that will theoretically lead to more democratic outcomes.”

Jeanine Turner, the director of the CCT, said Bode’s method of implementing research into her teaching helps students understand misinformation in a more concrete way. 

“She not only helps students to better understand about concepts like misinformation, but she also finds ways to help them be a part of researching misinformation,” Turner told The Hoya. “And in doing so, they understand not only the theoretical ideas around misinformation, but also how easy it is to develop messages and manipulate audiences.”

Tianin Lin (GRD ’23), a former student of Bode, said Bode’s advice on finding information has proved helpful in her post-graduate life as a researcher and aspiring professor, a career path reliant on such investigative and journalistic skills. Lin said learning from Bode has taught her skills she can use to help adapt outside of the classroom and in her future teaching career. 

“She teaches you how to find information; you use all those fields not only in research, but also in jobs,” Lin told The Hoya. “Research in debunking misinformation is very meaningful in the field and to myself.”

In addition to teaching, Bode has served on university committees like the faculty senate and the main campus executive faculty. She was also recently appointed as the research director for the Knight-Georgetown Institute (KGI), a new institute at Georgetown that aims to connect research related to technology and society to practical action.

Georgetown University / Leticia Bode, a professor in Georgetown University’s Communication, Culture and Technology (CCT) graduate program, is working to study misinformation and the changing political landscape ahead of the 2024 elections.

Adjacent to the CCT office at Georgetown’s Capitol Campus is the Center for Security and Emerging Technology (CSET), which examines the relationship between technology and misinformation in politics.

Danny Hague, the assistant director at CSET, said the center’s work prepares policy makers with information regarding technology and national security. 

“We research topics ranging from mapping technology supply chains to analyzing the risks of AI-fueled disinformation to promoting training & education so that U.S. workers can compete in an AI-enabled economy all of which affect our security,” Hague wrote to The Hoya. 

Bode said the proximity of the CCT and CSET offices is one of the reasons why she loves working at Georgetown.

“It’s all these different kinds of perspectives that color and change the way that I think about what I’m working on in a really fruitful and energizing way — to have so many people that are interested in similar things but from different angles all in the same place is cool,” Bode said. 

Since Summer 2021, Bode has annually taught an undergraduate course in the government department titled “Misinformation in Politics and Society,” which meets asynchronously and covers topics similar to her current CCT course “Misinformation and Society.”

Bode said teaching this summer course has been a rewarding experience because of the unique perspectives Georgetown students bring to the classroom. 

“I’ve had students take it from all over the world,” Bode said. “It’s always really fun to hear about what they’re thinking about misinformation from lots of different perspectives. And the undergrads at Georgetown are just so cool and well informed and have so many different experiences to share.” 


Rising Tech, Rising Misinformation

Meg Leta Jones, a Provost’s Distinguished Associate Professor in the CCT, said technology and misinformation are intertwined because they connect to larger issues of public policy. 

I’m a law and technology scholar, and Professor Bode is a misinformation researcher,” Jones wrote to The Hoya. “Her empirical work informs whether policies around platform governance may or may not support the proliferation of information and how that matters to policy goals like safety, democratic participation, engagement, mental health harms, etc.”

Although social media has allowed people to find and share any type of content, including political, Bode said this content has become increasingly curated to specific users over time, which makes it easier for people to fall victim to misinformation.

“There was this interesting thing where you got exposed to political content when you’re not looking for it in the first generation of social media, which is no longer true, for the record, for the current generation of social media, which is much more curated,” Bode said. “They have figured out exactly how to give you more of the content you like and less of the content you don’t like.”

AI poses new risks to misinformation because it makes creating misinformation easier and more convincing, according to Bode.

“If you knock on somebody’s door and you know that they’re a healthcare voter, you can talk to them about healthcare issues,” Bode said. “Misinformation can be targeted in the same way using AI.”

Bode said AI also makes misinformation more convincing through visuals and deep-fake technology. She said she believes false videos and audios created with AI can easily fool people. 

“People are busy,” Bode said. “Their biggest priority is not necessarily fact-checking every image or every video they see. There will be some percentage of people that are fooled by that sort of thing.”


Combating Misinformation, Looking Toward Future Elections

As the 2024 election nears, Bode, said a key to spotting misinformation is for people to recognize when a piece of information affects their emotions. 

“I particularly tell people to be particularly skeptical or careful about information that seems like it’s trying to excite your emotions,” Bode said. “If it’s trying to make you angry, or if it’s trying to make you laugh, or it’s trying to make you feel really proud — any of those kinds of emotions can be used for manipulation reasons, and you don’t want to be manipulated.”

Bode said she believes young people are in a better place to combat misinformation than older people because they have grown up in the era of social media and technology. 

“Research actually shows that older people are more susceptible to misinformation, particularly online,” she said. 

A 2020 Pew research study found that 40% of Americans aged 18-29 use social media as their primary news source. According to Pew, both political parties use social media, and unlike TV programs, social media is designed to target audiences based on specific issues like gun control or abortion rights.

Although technology is ever-changing, Bode said electoral misinformation is very predictable and follows certain patterns like using slightly different manifestations of misinformation in different places. 

“Most of the time, it’s something process related — somebody is trying to get people to vote that aren’t allowed to vote; somebody is trying to keep people from voting when they’re supposed to be able to vote; somebody is trying to put their thumb on the scale whether that’s through manipulating voting machines, or burying ballots,” Bode said. “It’s pretty predictable tropes.”

Bode said voters should learn more about the American electoral process, which has become easier to do through various media tools like interactive maps, to counteract the misinformation they face. 

“One thing that we’ve seen over the last couple of election cycles in the U.S. is that the media has done a better job at communicating what the actual electoral process is and what safeguards are in place to protect it,” she said. 

Another common form of electoral misinformation is candidate related, according to Bode. Similarly to electoral process misinformation, she said the best way to avoid falling victim to electoral misinformation is to be informed, and to do so using reputable sources like those the Georgetown University Library offers.

Bode said the cause of misinformation is people wanting to be persuasive either to gain power or to promote something that they identify with. 

“I am likely to believe misinformation if it aligns with my own political worldview and if it promotes a political cause that I believe in,” she said. “In the United States, the divide between right and left is pretty polarized at this point, which means that people are more motivated to do things to promote their side and denigrate the other side.” 

Bode discussed a recent example of polarization fueled by misinformation during the Jan. 6 attack on the United States Capitol, which happened as a result of election denial. 

“The foundational element of what happened on January 6 is that there are a lot of people that don’t trust the government and don’t trust what’s happening in the government right now, and that is a foundational problem in a democracy,” Bode said. 

“If you’re not going to accept what is at the heart of democracy, which is that when an election happens, you accept who wins and who loses — sometimes it’s your person that wins and sometimes it’s not — then I think that is a real danger for the health of a democracy and the sustainability of a democracy,” Bode added.

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