The Project (in Depth)

AI and Investigative Journalism

One of the 10 projects selected for the JournalismAI Fellowship 2022.

Tracking Influencers aims to help journalists investigate influencers on social platforms on a greater scale using AI technologies and developing a replicable methodology. The initial focus of the project is on Instagram and specifically on creating a system to flag those users who are promoting brands or services without complying with the guidelines that mandate disclosure of all commercial relationships. The industry, a multi-billion dollar global industry, refers to these users as ‘creators’. They are or aim to be professional influencers which in turn means that most of what they do or say on social media comes with a price tag or in exchange for goods or access.

Behind a creator, there is almost always a buyer and very frequently this relationship, while a legitimate advertisement practice, is kept discreet. There are circumstances in which this lack of transparency can be seen as a breach of trust for millions of followers who hang from the lips of influencers and see them as role models to aspire to and imitate. In some cases, undisclosed relationships with advertisers go well beyond fiddling with the good faith of other users, they violate the rules of engagement of the social media platforms as well as laws.

Tracking Influencers is a collaborative journalistic investigation pioneered by Sky News, Infobae and Il Sole 24 Ore and one of the 10 projects selected for the JournalismAI Fellowship 2022. The project is meant as a first step, the discovery phase if you will, of a broader system, which we hope will one day help highlight potential harmful or misleading content shared on social media for journalists to investigate further.

This is a programme organised by the JournalismAI team at  Polis – the journalism think-tank at the London School of Economics and Political Science - that brings together journalists and technologists from different parts of the world to collaborate on solutions to improve journalism using AI technologies. 

This documentation is divided into several parts, detailing our research and methodology as well as our progress over the course of the fellowship.

Our entire codebase is made available on GitHub and the same is true for the data we have collected during the project and which is compiled in a Rest API. Data is available upon request just for research or investigative purposes.

Steve Gale, Unsplash