On Monday, a package of stories including The Follower Factory — an in-depth investigation of purchased followers on twitter — along with other reporting on how Facebook and the big tech firms allowed the spread of misinformation and failed to protect consumer privacy, was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize in National Reporting.
The Follower Factory, published in January 2018 in The New York Times, started as a pitch from the Computational Journalism class at Columbia Journalism School, taught by Professor Mark Hansen. Manuela Andreoni, Laurent Bastien Corbeil, Nic Dias, Elise Hansen, and Manuel Villa, all students in the class, started the reporting on the story. And it developed from there, becoming a months-long investigation into how various individuals—celebrities, politicians, athletes—purchase twitter followers to boost their profile, as well as a look into the individuals and companies running these bot warehouses.
Since its launch, it has led to an investigation by the New York Attorney General into companies that sell followers, a purge by Twitter of tens of millions of fake accounts, and even California’s new “Bot Law.” The package of stories from the Times that includes The Follower Factory also received a George Polk award for National Reporting.
Congratulations to Professor Mark Hansen, Director of the Columbia side of the Brown Institute, and his students for this amazing investigation.