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Can academics and journalists collaborate on big data projects?

Journalisr’s Resources – The SilverLining Project wants to find out: “The internet was made for transactions. Whether it’s photos of grandkids or a pallet of toilet paper, the internet connects people who have something with people who want it. That includes illegal goods and services. In hidden corners of the internet called the dark web, users can buy and sell anonymously over encrypted networks. Hackers regularly break into private databases owned by companies and governments, and hacked data often circulates for sale on the dark web. Gary King, director of Harvard University’s Institute for Quantitative Social Science, launched The SilverLining Project in mid-2020 to squeeze a little light out of the darkness. “We noticed in the media there’s more and more spectacular break-ins and people stealing data and putting it on the dark web,” says King, an expert in big data analysis. “We were wondering whether we could create some good out of all this bad.” The SilverLining Project seeks to advise academics who want to use data on the dark web for scholarly analysis without running afoul of the law and university rules. King also is eager to work, collaborate with and provide technical expertise to journalists who receive large data leaks. He worked closely with the Freedom of the Press Foundation to create the first SecureDrop site for a university. Major news outlets regularly use SecureDrop to receive information leaks. Data shared via SecureDrop is encrypted and subpoena-proof. “We will never scoop journalists or get in their way,” King says. “We also can provide value to them. We have skills in automated video and text analysis and the technology to deal with big, messy databases of emails and all different types of data formats. We can absolutely give those tools to a journalist who might be interested.” I recently spoke with King about why journalists might consider working with him — and how he has worked with news outlets in the past to understand journalism’s widespread effects on the national social media dialogue. Our conversation has been edited for clarity…”

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