Feminist. Behavioral scientist. Journalist. Caroline Orr studies disinformation, psychological warfare, and the extremes of human behaviour and will be writing about it for you.
Orr will be joining National Observer’s team as part of the Election Integrity Reporting Project. Orr is a social scientist recognized internationally for her expertise on bots, propaganda and online information warfare.
She brings prodigious experience to the job. After a decade in academia conducting and publishing scientific research across a broad range of topics related to human behaviour and psychology, Orr turned her focus to misinformation, disinformation, and social media manipulation, which she has studied and written about for over two years as an academic researcher and as a journalist.
Some of the subject areas she has written about include the use of automated accounts to manipulate perceived norms; search engine and algorithm manipulation; memetic warfare; the use of social media for intelligence gathering and psychological profiling; the social-psychological functions of conspiracy theories; online extremism and radicalization; the weaponization of social media; the proliferation of industry propaganda masquerading as news; and the dark money groups fueling the cycle of political misinformation.
“Caroline Orr is a leader in the field of investigating disinformation and exposing who is behind it and I am thrilled she is joining us,” National Observer editor-in-chief Linda Solomon Wood said today. “For years now, she has been monitoring – and revealing – the bots, trolls and manipulative algorithms that are poisoning our online conversations. Thanks to our subscribers and to every person who has donated so far to the Election Integrity Reporting Project. You have all helped build the wherewithal to get Ms. Orr started working for National Observer's readers.”
Orr's work has been published in publications including The Independent, USA Today, Playboy, Shareblue Media, Arc Digital, Byline Times, and The American Independent. Her years of academic research experience put her in the unique position of being able to translate technical and scientific findings for wide audiences. Having conducted both qualitative and quantitative research, she brings a broad range of skills to National Observer's reporting team, including collecting and analyzing data from different sources and in a variety of formats, interpreting the results, and presenting the findings in published reports, infographics and non-traditional formats such as Twitter threads, which are her specialty.
Many of the topics that National Observer has covered extensively — including climate change and environmental issues, immigration, and public health — are susceptible to misinformation and disinformation campaigns, aimed at manipulating public opinion and ultimately shaping the national and international discourse surrounding these issues. Orr views it as both a responsibility and a privilege to be able to inform the public on such critical topics, and to get ahead of the curve on emerging efforts to deceive the public.
"One of the areas that will be of particular importance during election season and beyond is how information operations are evolving as social media and tech companies develop new strategies to counter the problem," she says. "For example, tech companies learned the characteristics of automated accounts (“bots”) as we know them, but there are already new iterations out there that are designed to appear more humanlike and to avoid detection.
"Another area that remains largely a dark hole in terms of public awareness is the use of PR firms by Russia and other international and domestic actors to plant stories disguised as independent news and opinion pieces in mainstream outlets, and the exploitation of loopholes to conceal the source(s) of information that make it into newspapers and other publications. Because media outlets and PR reps both have an interest in keeping that quiet, these sources are rarely disclosed and thus the information is presented as neutral and the reader is never given an opportunity to evaluate the information in context," Orr says.
As a journalist with a background in science, Orr says she has always placed a high value on transparency, accountability, and factual, evidence-based reporting, "which is one of the many reasons I value National Observer’s approach to journalism."
"When I first started reporting on misinformation and disinformation in the U.S., I was among a small group of people who recognized the systemic nature and gravity of the problem, which was both challenging and exciting, as it presented an opportunity to shape the future of the field. Within a relatively short amount of time, I had established myself as both a pioneer and as a reliable source of accurate reporting in this area."
"In terms of Russian and other foreign interference, I would frame Canada as the next in line, following successful election interference in the United States and the U.K.,” Orr says.
Editor's Note: We invite readers to share information and thoughts on all of these issues. You can reach Caroline Orr at @RVAwonk on twitter.