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Philip N. Howard

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Philip N. Howard
Born (1970-12-09) December 9, 1970 (age 53)
Montreal, Canada
Known for
Academic work
DisciplineSocial Science

Philip N. Howard (born December 9, 1970) 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.[2] He was Director of the Oxford Internet Institute from March 2018 to March 26, 2021.[3] 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.[4][5] His latest book is Lie Machines: How to Save Democracy from Troll Armies, Deceitful Robots, Junk News Operations, and Political Operatives.[6]


His research has demonstrated that the diffusion of digital media has long-term, often positive, implications for democratic institutions.[citation needed] 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.[7] 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,[8] though Howard later studied the disinformation campaigns launched by the Internet Research Agency.[9]

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.[10] 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.[11] 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."[12] 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.[13][14][15]

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.[16]

Computational propaganda[edit]

In the book Lie Machines (2020) Howard surveys 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.[17]

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.[18][19] 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[20] on computational propaganda, political communication, election interference, and the abuse of social media by politicians and foreign governments.[21][22] 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.[23][24]

Howard is sometimes critiqued by the subjects of his research and investigations. After a reporter presented one of the research findings from a report that Howard was listed as the Primary Investigator on, President Rodrigo Duterte said: “Oxford University? That’s a school for stupid people.” [25] 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 .[26]


  • Howard, Philip N. Lie Machines: How to Save Democracy from Troll Armies, Deceitful Robots, Junk News Operations, and Political Operatives. Yale University Press, 2020. ISBN 9780300250206
  • Woolley, Samuel and Philip N. Howard. Computational Propaganda: Political Parties, Politicians, and Political Manipulation on Social Media. Oxford University Press, 2018. ISBN 0190931418, 9780190931414
  • 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. ISBN 0300213662, 9780300213669
  • Howard, Philip N. (editor). State Power 2.0: Authoritarian Entrenchment and Civic Engagement Worldwide. Ashgate Press, 2013. ISBN 9781409454694
  • Howard, Philip N. (coauthor). Democracy's Fourth Wave? Digital Media and the Arab Spring. Oxford University Press, 2013. ISBN 0199936951, 9780199936953
  • Howard, Philip N. Castells and the Media. Polity Press, 2011. ISBN 074565259X, 9780745652580
  • Howard, Philip N. The Digital Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy: Information Technology and Political Islam. Oxford University Press, 2011. ISBN 9780199736416, 9780199813667, 0199813663
  • Howard, Philip N. (editor). Handbook of Internet Politics. Routledge, 2009. ISBN 9780415429146
  • Howard, Philip N. New Media Campaigns and the Managed Citizen. Cambridge University Press, 2006. ISBN 0521847494, 9780521847490
  • Howard, Philip N. (editor). Society Online: The Internet in Context. Sage, 2004. ISBN 0761927077

Essays and journalism[edit]


  1. ^ IPIE (2024b), Philip Howard, IPIE Co-founder and CEO, Wikidata Q124713098
  2. ^ "Professor Philip Howard".
  3. ^ "Announcing the OII's next Director".
  4. ^ "About". 26 December 2015.
  5. ^ "Philip N. Howard". Amazon UK.
  6. ^ Aziz Huq (2020-06-26). "Political lies aren't new, but the methods of spreading them are". The Washington Post. Washington, D.C. ISSN 0190-8286. OCLC 1330888409.
  7. ^ "Howard - Department of Communication, University of Washington". Com.washington.edu. Archived from the original on December 9, 2011. Retrieved December 7, 2011.
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^ Rothman, Wilson. "Technolog - How the Internet brought down a dictator". Technolog.msnbc.msn.com. Archived from the original on February 17, 2011. Retrieved December 7, 2011.
  11. ^ "Egypt Cuts Off Communication amid Crisis". CBS News. January 29, 2011. Retrieved December 7, 2011.
  12. ^ "In Libya, perfecting the art of revolution by Twitter". CSMonitor.com. May 10, 2011. Retrieved December 7, 2011.
  13. ^ "Hungary's Crackdown on the Press". New York Times. September 8, 2014. Retrieved December 20, 2014.
  14. ^ "#HashtagActivismMatters: Some experts see online-to-IRL change in police protests". Washington Post. December 14, 2014. Retrieved December 20, 2014.
  15. ^ "Millennials and the Age of Tumblr Activism". New York Times. December 19, 2014. Retrieved December 20, 2014.
  16. ^ "Review: Pax Technica, by Philip Howard". Financial Times. May 20, 2015. Retrieved June 5, 2015.
  17. ^ Huq, Aziz (June 25, 2020). "Political lies aren't new, but the methods of spreading them are". Washington Post. Retrieved September 17, 2021. a new tool kit for Web-based public lies has been tested by Russia and China, for use first at home and then against foreign foes. It is diffusing quickly to more nations. Howard counts five other countries — India, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela — that are using the same tool kit against overseas democratic publics. In 2020, there were 'organized social media misinformation teams' working for parties and governments in some 70 countries.
  18. ^ "One in four debate tweets comes from a bot. Here's how to spot them". Washington Post. October 19, 2016. Retrieved January 29, 2016.
  19. ^ "Automated Pro-Trump Bots Overwhelmed Pro-Clinton Messages, Researchers Say". New York Times. November 17, 2016. Retrieved January 29, 2016.
  20. ^ "DemTech | Research".
  21. ^ Bradshaw, Samantha; Howard, Philip N.; Kollanyi, Bence; Neudert, Lisa-Maria (2020). "Sourcing and Automation of Political News and Information over Social Media in the United States, 2016-2018". Political Communication. 37 (2): 173–193. doi:10.1080/10584609.2019.1663322. S2CID 210452697.
  22. ^ Elswah, Mona; Howard, Philip N. (2020). ""Anything that Causes Chaos": The Organizational Behavior of Russia Today (RT)". Journal of Communication. 70 (5): 623–645. doi:10.1093/joc/jqaa027.
  23. ^ "Hearings | Intelligence Committee". Intelligence.senate.gov. 2018-08-01. Retrieved 2022-07-04.
  24. ^ Preserving Democracy in the Digital Age, 22 February 2018
  25. ^ "Oxford University is 'for stupid people', claims Philippines president". Washington Post. July 27, 2017. Archived from the original on 2022-05-26. Retrieved February 20, 2020.
  26. ^ "Study bashes Trumpites for promoting 'junk' news. But what's that?". Washington Post. February 7, 2018. Retrieved February 20, 2020.

External links[edit]