Philip N. Howard

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Philip N. Howard
Lpr-forum FOX 170330 037.jpg
Howard at IPR Forum
Born (1970-12-09) December 9, 1970 (age 50)
Montreal, Canada
Known for
Spouse(s)Gina Neff
Academic background
Alma mater
Academic work
DisciplineSocial Science

Philip N. Howard is a sociologist and communication researcher who studies the impact of information technologies on democracy and social inequality. He studies how new information technologies are used in both civic engagement and social control in countries around the world. He is Professor of Internet Studies at the Oxford Internet Institute and Balliol College at the University of Oxford.[1] He is the author of ten books, including New Media Campaigns and The Managed Citizen, The Digital Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy, and Pax Technica: How the Internet of Things May Set Us Free or Lock Us Up.[2][3] His latest book is Lie Machines: How to Save Democracy from Troll Armies, Deceitful Robots, Junk News Operations, and Political Operatives.[4]


Howard was born in Montreal in 1970. He is married to Gina Neff, also a professor at the Oxford Internet Institute, and they have two sons.

Howard has been a Fellow at the Pew Internet & American Life Project in Washington, D.C., the London School of Economics' Stanhope Centre for Communications Policy Research, Stanford University's Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, and Princeton University's Center for Information Technology Policy. In 2013 he moved to Budapest, Hungary where he helped to found the School of Public Policy at Central European University. He has courtesy appointments or fellowships with the Department of Communication at the University of Washington and the Center for Media, Data and Society at Central European University and Columbia University's Tow Center for Digital Journalism.


His research has demonstrated that the diffusion of digital media has long-term, often positive, implications for democratic institutions. Through information infrastructure, some young democracies have become more entrenched and durable; some authoritarian regimes have made significant transitions towards democratic institutions and practices; and others have become less authoritarian and hybrid where information technologies support the work of particular actors such as state, political parties, journalists, or civil society groups.

Astroturf campaigns and fake news[edit]

Howard was one of the first to investigate the impact of digital media on political campaigning in advanced democracies, and he was the first political scientist to define and study "astroturf" political movements as the managed perception of grassroots support through astroturfing in his research on the Gore and Bush presidential campaigns. New Media Campaigns and the Managed Citizen (2005) is about how politicians and lobbyists in the United States use the internet to manipulate the public and violate privacy.[5] His research on technology and social change has been prescient. The subject's study of the 2016 U.S. presidential election did not identify the Russian sources of disinformation that other investigations have alluded to,[6] though Howard later studied the disinformation campaigns launched by the Internet Research Agency.[7]

Digital media and the Arab Spring[edit]

Howard wrote presciently about the role of the internet in transforming Political Islam, and is the author of The Digital Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy (2010) which argues that how states respond to new information technologies has become a defining feature of both democracy and authoritarianism. Howard demonstrated that the internet was having an important impact on political Islam. The book was published before the Arab Spring, and shows how new social movements in North Africa and the Middle East were using social media to outmaneuver some of the region's dictators, partly because these regimes lacked effective responses to online evidence of their abuses.[8] Using Charles Ragin's method of "qualitative comparative analysis" Howard investigated technology diffusion and political Islam and explained trends in many countries, with the exception of Tunisia and Egypt. But very shortly the trends in social activism and political Islam he had identified appeared in those two countries as well in the "Arab Spring."

Democracy's Fourth Wave? (2013), with Muzammil M. Hussain, suggests that turning off the Internet, as the Mubarak regime did on January 28, 2011, actually strengthened the revolution by forcing people into the streets to seek information.[9] It sees events like the Arab Spring as "early signs of the next big wave of democratization. But this time, it will be wrestled into life in the digital living room of the global community."[10] His research and commentary is regularly featured in the media, including recent contributions about media politics in the US, Hungary and around the world the New York Times and Washington Post.[11][12][13]

Politics and the Internet of Things[edit]

In Pax Technica (2015) he argues that the Internet of Things will be the most important tool of political communication we have ever built. He advocates for more public input in its design and more civic engagement with how this information infrastructure gets used.[14]

Computational propaganda[edit]

In Lie Machines (2020) he surveyes the extent to which large-scale misinformation campaigns have shaped politics. He highlights the roots these developments have in propaganda but mobilizes contemporary data to argue that a host of technologies, techniques, and actors (e.g., AI bots, political activists, conspiracy theorists, national governments, and so forth) are innovating at a rapid pace. Lie Machines extends Howard's 2014 hypothesis that political elites in democracies would soon be using algorithms over social media to manipulate public opinion, a process he called "computational propaganda." Evidence from Russia, Myanmar, Hungary, Poland, Brazil, and of course the United States, documented in Lie Machines and scholarly articles and policy reports, further substantiate this hypothesis.

For example, his research on political redlining, astroturf campaigns and fake news inspired a decade of work and became particularly relevant during the Brexit referendum and the 2016 U.S. Presidential Campaign.[15][16] His research has exposed the global impact of bots and trolls on public opinion.


As Director of the Democracy and Technology Programme at the Oxford Internet Institute, Howard has contributed to more than 130 reports[17] on computational propaganda, political communication, election interference, and the abuse of social media by politicians and foreign governments.[18][19] Like fellow Canadian researcher Ronald Deibert of the Citizen Lab, Howard's work is often critical of authoritarian regimes and the use of technology for political manipulation. Howard has testified before the UK Parliament, European Commission, and US Senate on election interference.[20][21]


A number of criticisms have been leveled against Howard's objectivity and the validity of his research's designs.[22]

Howard's testimony to the UK Parliament on the impact of overspending by the Vote Leave campaign on the Brexit referendum has been criticized as fundamentally flawed in UK media.[23][24] John Burn-Murdoch, a data-visualization journalist for The Financial Times and Anthony B. Masters of the Royal Statistical Society argued that the testimony that Howard provided to the Government on Brexit was invalid due to incorrect electoral numbers, his ignorance of click-thru rates, and his inability to provide any evidence of conversation rates for political marketing.[25]

In Aaron Bobrow-Strain's article Between a Ranch and a Hard Place: Violence, Scarcity, and Meaning in Chiapas, Mexico in Violent Environments he states that Howard: “manipulate[s)]… a complicated array of political, economic, historical and social factors into a straightforward liner model of escalating scarcities.” Dr. Emma Briant, a propaganda scholar, likewise criticizes Howard’s research methodology. She notes that it does not account for underreporting and understudying of disinformation in some parts of the world, resulting in unreliable claims regarding the growth of disinformation globally. [26]

After a reporter presented one of the research findings from a report that Dr. Howard was listed as the Primary Investigator on, President Rodrigo Duterte said: “Oxford University? That’s a school for stupid people.” [27] Erik Wemple in The Washington Post and Elizabeth Harrington in The Washington Free Beacon argue that his research is biased against those who voted for President Donald J. Trump . [28] [29]


Ph.D. Sociology, Northwestern University, 2002
M.Sc. Economics, London School of Economics, 1994
B.A. Political Science, Innis College, University of Toronto, 1993

Academic positions[edit]

Awards and honours[edit]


  • Howard, Philip N. Lie Machines: How to Save Democracy from Troll Armies, Deceitful Robots, Junk News Operations, and Political Operatives. Yale University Press, 2020.
  • Woolley, Samuel and Philip N. Howard. Computational Propaganda: Political Parties, Politicians, and Political Manipulation on Social Media. Oxford University Press, 2018.
  • Howard, Philip N. Pax Technica: How the Internet of Things May Set Us Free or Lock Us Up. Yale University Press, 2015. Also published in German and Chinese.
  • Howard, Philip N. (editor). State Power 2.0: Authoritarian Entrenchment and Civic Engagement Worldwide. Ashgate Press, 2013.
  • Howard, Philip N. (coauthor). Democracy's Fourth Wave? Digital Media and the Arab Spring. Oxford University Press, 2013.
  • Howard, Philip N. Castells on the Media. Polity Press, 2011.
  • Howard, Philip N. The Digital Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy: Information Technology and Political Islam. Oxford University Press, 2011.
  • Howard, Philip N. (editor). Handbook of Internet Politics. Routledge, 2009.
  • Howard, Philip N. New Media Campaigns and the Managed Citizen. Cambridge University Press, 2006.
  • Howard, Philip N. (editor). Society Online: The Internet in Context. Sage, 2004. Also published in Spanish.

Essays and journalism[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^
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  5. ^ "Howard - Department of Communication, University of Washington". Archived from the original on December 9, 2011. Retrieved December 7, 2011.
  6. ^ Stone, Peter and Gordon, Greg. (20 March 2017). "FBI’s Russian-influence probe includes a look at Breitbart, InfoWars news sites". McClatchy DC website Retrieved 21 June 2017.
  7. ^ Howard, Philip; Ganesh, Bharath; Liotsiou, Dimitra; Kelly, John; François, Camille (2019-10-01). "The IRA, Social Media and Political Polarization in the United States, 2012-2018". U.S. Senate Documents.
  8. ^ Rothman, Wilson. "Technolog - How the Internet brought down a dictator". Archived from the original on February 17, 2011. Retrieved December 7, 2011.
  9. ^ "Egypt Cuts Off Communication amid Crisis". CBS News. January 29, 2011. Retrieved December 7, 2011.
  10. ^ "In Libya, perfecting the art of revolution by Twitter". May 10, 2011. Retrieved December 7, 2011.
  11. ^ "Hungary's Crackdown on the Press". New York Times. September 8, 2014. Retrieved December 20, 2014.
  12. ^ "#HashtagActivismMatters: Some experts see online-to-IRL change in police protests". Washington Post. December 14, 2014. Retrieved December 20, 2014.
  13. ^ "Millennials and the Age of Tumblr Activism". New York Times. December 19, 2014. Retrieved December 20, 2014.
  14. ^ "Review: Pax Technica, by Philip Howard". Financial Times. May 20, 2015. Retrieved June 5, 2015.
  15. ^ "One in four debate tweets comes from a bot. Here's how to spot them". Washington Post. October 19, 2016. Retrieved January 29, 2016.
  16. ^ "Automated Pro-Trump Bots Overwhelmed Pro-Clinton Messages, Researchers Say". New York Times. November 17, 2016. Retrieved January 29, 2016.
  17. ^
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  22. ^ "The Army that Never Existed: The Failure of Social Bots Research". Retrieved June 11, 2021. line feed character in |title= at position 29 (help)
  23. ^ "Did Vote Leave's overspending really win the EU referendum?". The Telegraph. December 7, 2018. Retrieved June 11, 2021.
  24. ^ "Did Vote Leave's overspending win the referendum for Brexit?". The Spectator. December 7, 2018. Retrieved June 11, 2021.
  25. ^ "Oxford Professor's Car Crash Attempt to Discredit Referendum". Order Order. December 6, 2018. Retrieved February 20, 2020.
  26. ^ "The Grim Consequences of a Misleading Study on Disinformation". Wired. February 18, 2021. Retrieved June 11, 2021.
  27. ^ "Oxford University is 'for stupid people', claims Philippines president". Washington Post. July 27, 2017. Retrieved February 20, 2020.
  28. ^ "Study bashes Trumpites for promoting 'junk' news. But what's that?". Washington Post. February 7, 2018. Retrieved February 20, 2020.
  29. ^ "The Oxford Study Saying Trump Supporters Share More Fake News Is Fake News". Washington Free Beacon. February 9, 2018. Retrieved February 20, 2020.

External links[edit]