Dr Emma L Briant
Professor, Researcher, Journalist, Consultant
Dr Briant is one of the key researchers who uncovered the Cambridge Analytica scandal in 2018, with two books and contributions to two major documentary films, she is an internationally recognized expert on information warfare and propaganda. As Associate Researcher at Bard College she extended her international reputation on data-driven disinformation, surveillance and human rights. Films for which she contributed as researcher include Oscar-shortlisted Netflix film The Great Hack and People You May Know.
For her book Propaganda and Counter-Terrorism: Strategies for Global Change (Manchester University Press, 2015), Dr Briant analyzed the coordination and increasing impacts of the digitalization of defense propaganda – Prof. Robert McChesney (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) kindly endorsed it: “This sophisticated book should be mandatory reading for anyone with an interest in the subject.” This fed Dr Briant’s deep interest in the actors behind the influence campaigns and as part of this research she spent 13 years researching SCL Group, Cambridge Analytica and the wider influence industry, and was central in revealing their wrongdoing in 2018. Dr Briant mapped Cambridge Analytica worldwide clients and is finalizing a book, ‘Propaganda Machine: Inside Cambridge Analytica and the ‘Bad Influence’ Industry’. Her research formed the basis for important evidence and testimony exposing the firms wrongdoing, informing debates in the US Congress, UK Parliament, Canadian Parliament and European Parliament (some reports are listed here). Dr Briant has testified and acted as witness in UK and US courts regarding digital influence operations. She regularly gives advice to politicians, governments, NGO’s and Tech companies seriously engaging in efforts to tackle ‘disinformation for hire’, data rights and information warfare.
But it didn’t start there… Dr Briant’s research has featured in the media and influenced policy for a decade.
Her first book Bad News for Refugees, (Pluto Press, 2013, co-authored with Greg Philo and Pauline Donald), examined UK political and media discourse on migration prior to ‘Brexit’ as well as its impact on communities. It involved collaboration with the Red Cross and Refugee Council, demonstrating the negative impact of misleading coverage of the refugee crisis on communities and migrants’ mental health. The book made real-world changes when Dr Briant and her co-authors contributed evidence with Scottish Refugee Council to the Home Affairs Parliamentary Select Committee Inquiry into Asylum & UK Media, which led to new UK rules on journalism ethics in 2013.
Dr Briant’s longstanding research impact includes some of her first publications – in 2011 Dr Briant was lead author on the study ‘Bad News for Disabled People‘ with Nick Watson and Greg Philo. Backed by Inclusion London, the study became important evidence relied on in the UK’s Leveson Inquiry into the British press, it was widely reported and was directly discussed both in a House of Commons debate on disability hate crime and in the Work and Pensions Select Committee (February 2012). The Committee Chair relied on it to question Department of Work and Pensions Ministers concerning the changing attitudes to disabled people and the transformation of the language used to represent disabled people and disability welfare benefits in the media (read more in the research impact 2014 case study from Glasgow University).
Dr Briant does consulting in the areas of her expertise at her company Maven of Persuasion LLC – as a speaker, for her policy, research and other advisory services, training, or expert work in her areas of expertise.
What Maven DOES – use her expertise to educate and raise awareness on the issues and tactics of propaganda, disinformation and influence operations, offer advice on advancing ethics and transparency, helping raise our resilience to such activities and understanding of how one may be targeted.
What Maven DOES NOT do – campaigns, ‘strategic communication’, help tracking or ‘countering’ disinformation or any other campaigns, or training on how to do these things.
Read on or explore the tabs to learn more about her work.
- Associate Researcher in Human Rights Program at Bard College, New York (2019-ongoing)
- Senior Lecturer (Associate Professor) in Journalism, University of Essex (2017-2019)
- Lecturer (Assistant Professor) in Journalism Studies at University of Sheffield (2013-1017)
I am an internationally recognized expert on information warfare and propaganda who in 2018 was central in revealing wrongdoing of the campaign firm Cambridge Analytica and its parent SCL, including their work for international campaigns and Trump and Brexit. My publicly engaged research on influence and propaganda explores ethical issues and how its changing practice raises challenges for democracies. I tackle these important questions in relation to domestic politics, international conflicts, and on major social issues like migration. A central thread of my research considers how the contemporary (socio-political, economic and technological) development of systems of propaganda by state, corporate, and other non-governmental actors raises challenges for democracy; and in whose interests they are resolved or managed. It examines for example the ethics, norms, subcultures and uses/abuses of power in relation to emergent practice in propaganda within and by democracies.
My consulting and journalistic projects have been central in raising awareness of important issues of data rights, mass surveillant propaganda, and how to tackle ‘disinformation’. I have authored many reports and op-eds and I was Senior Researcher on the 2020 Academy Award shortlisted and BAFTA nominated documentary film The Great Hack on Netflix. Most recently, I served as advisor for a film for People You May Know, a documentary released on Amazon Prime in fall 2020 (See also trailer at www.metrotonemedia.com).
I am aiming soon to publish a new sole-authored book ‘Propaganda Machine: Tackling Cambridge Analytica and the ‘Bad Influence’ Industry‘. During this policy-oriented research and for other publications I spent many years researching SCL Group and it’s subsidiary Cambridge Analytica and contributed to several important public inquiries which helped to bring an unethical influence industry into the light enabling real scrutiny of powerful actors undermining our democratic systems and led to my current book project. My research and evidence has been widely reported in the media internationally and my testimony was discussed in the UK Parliament several times, EU parliament, the US Congress as well as the Canadian Parliament. One of my most widely reported testimonies was to the UK’s Fake News Inquiry in April 2018 – but subsequent submissions published here in June 2018 and I made recommendations for policy in September 2018. In addition to presenting evidence on the Trump campaign and evidence that called into question Leave.EU Campaign’s conduct during the UK referendum that was the democratic basis for Brexit, my evidence helped expose and bring about the collapse of a highly unethical company and ignite an important debate of privacy, big data ethics and how propaganda is deployed in a digital age.
I am also working on another book project with Prof Robert M Entman analyzing the Democrats’ political communication failures and the 2016 election of Donald Trump – What’s Wrong with the Democrats? Media Bias, Inequality and the rise of Donald Trump. I have been conducting research on the contemporary propaganda war between the US and Russia for a new publication, as well as other projects looking at PSYOP, the post-war reconstruction period and propaganda in Iraq.
My first peer-reviewed academic article and the report on which it was based were submitted as examples of research exellence to the Research Evaluation Framework in 2014 by University of Glasgow as a case study for societal impact of research. This research, on which I was first author and guided a team of research assistants, helped Glasgow University achieve Rank of 1st in Scotland and 8th in the UK in sociology, with a GPA of 3.20 and 75% of the work considered world-leading or internationally excellent after I moved on to my first faculty post at University of Sheffield. Here is an extract from the Research Evaluation detailing the research’s policy impact as an example of excellence and you can read the full impact case study here:
“This research ignited the political debate on media representations of disabled people. For example, on 14 November 2011, the report was directly cited by Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson in a welfare reform debate in the House of Lords as evidence of widespread misrepresentation of disabled people and disability benefits. Also in November 2011, the Shadow Minister for Disability Issues referred directly to the University of Glasgow findings in a House of Commons debate on disability hate crime. The report was also mentioned during discussion in the Work and Pensions Select Committee (February 2012), allowing the National Autistic Society and Disability Alliance to draw attention to ‘the negative tone adopted in the media about wider disability issues’. The Committee Chair also used the research in the in the Committee’s questioning of DWP Ministers concerning the changing attitudes to disabled people and the transformation of the language used to represent disabled people and disability benefits in the media. The research was cited in the Work and Pensions Select Committee’s report Government support towards the extra living costs of working age disabled people and in a Westminster Briefing prepared by The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology on Work Capacity Assessment. The Committee Chair has also drawn from the research in the preparation of speeches and articles relating to the change of language used to describe disabled people since the 2010 General Election.”
Here is the article, on which the research impact assessment was based, still my most-cited academic publication:
Emma L Briant, Nick Watson and Greg Philo (September 2013) ‘Reporting Disability in the Age of Austerity: the changing face of media representation of disability and disabled people in the United Kingdom and the creation of new folk devils‘ in Disability and Society, Vol 28, No 6.
The Great Hack
I was Senior Researcher on the 2019 Netflix Documentary Film ‘The Great Hack’ which premiered at Sundance Film Festival and was BAFTA nominated and Oscar Shortlisted. It’s a MUST watch if you’re interested in the Cambridge Analytica scandal, data misuse in elections and the role of disinformation in elections.
People You May Know
I am proud to have been involved in the making of an important upcoming documentary on Republican religious data harvesting for propaganda ahead of the 2020 election ‘People You May Know‘ – see it on Amazon Prime. I advised the filmmakers in the early stages regarding Cambridge Analytica and have been credited for my role. The film makers Katharina Gellein Viken and Charles Kriel have done an incredible job investigating a live data operation for this important public interest film – it features prominently the work of Australian researcher Brent Allpress and for more information you can also read Shadow Network by Anne Nelson who is interviewed.
NEW: Interactive Cambridge Analytica Map
My 2019-20 major project has just launched! The Interactive Cambridge Analytica Map collates and analyzes reporting of the scandal-ridden company Strategic Communication Laboratories (SCL) and their subsidiary Cambridge Analytica (CA), whose wrongdoing I was central in exposing in 2018. It maps reported global reach (1989-2018), including clients and projects. It visualizes the expanding scale and spread of their activities over time and allows you to move back and forward in time exploring projects. Explore the map on the Propaganda Machine project website. Best explored on desktop not mobile.
My prior work includes analyses of media coverage of disability and asylum in the UK with the Glasgow Media Group where I worked and studied for her PhD in Sociology prior appointment to Sheffield University in 2013. During this time I co-authored my first book ‘Bad News for Refugees‘ with Greg Philo and Pauline Donald. I remain a proud member of Glasgow Media Group.
Navigate via the menu above to check out my publications, posts, media coverage and reviews
-PROPAGANDA MACHINE: INSIDE CAMBRIDGE ANALYTICA AND THE DIGITAL INFLUENCE INDUSTRY-
Propaganda Machine will tell the untold story of Cambridge Analytica (CA) examining the origins, rise and continuing threat of a new breed of influence firm who brought dirty tricks and propaganda into a digital age. It will examine CA’s and rise and the development of a network of companies working in military, political and commercial campaigns, how growth of access to social media data opened the door to big data harvesting, analytics, psychographics, and the techniques of surveillant advertising for an expanding digital influence industry. This project will explain the global expansion of a model of data-driven and defense derived propaganda methods which ultimately enabled a uniquely contemporary media crisis during the Brexit and Trump campaigns and around the world.
-WHAT’S WRONG WITH THE DEMOCRATS? MEDIA BIAS, INEQUALITY AND THE RISE OF DONALD TRUMP-
My new work in progress with Prof. Robert M Entman:
In this book we analyse how over several decades a failure by The Democratic Party to fully deliver policies that would halt rising economic inequality, was reinforced by a growing inability to communicate these policies among key communities… read more…
-PROPAGANDA AND COUNTER-TERRORISM: STRATEGIES FOR GLOBAL CHANGE-
Emma Louise Briant (2015) ‘Propaganda and Counter-terrorism: Strategies for Global Change’, Manchester: Manchester University Press.
Endorsement from cover from Professor Robert W. McChesney, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign:
“Emma Briant’s Propaganda and counter-terrorism is a superb analysis of the propaganda provided by the governments of the United States and United Kingdom in present times. It is thoroughly researched and contextualized, and offers fresh insights into the great risks these practices hold for democracy. This sophisticated book should be mandatory reading for anyone with an interest in the subject.”
Propaganda and Counter-terrorism is a “path-breaking study” which “explodes myths about propaganda” Prof. Alex Law, Abertay University, Dundee, Scotland.
-BAD NEWS FOR REFUGEES-
Greg Philo, Emma Briant & Pauline Donald (2013) ‘Bad News for Refugees‘ London: Pluto Press.
Endorsement from the back of the book by Professor James Curran, Goldsmiths, University of London:
“This is an enormously important book that documents with meticulous scholarship the way in which immigrants have been stigmatised by the British media. It offers a compelling analysis of what is omitted from media accounts, which voices are left unheard, how simplifications and stereotypes are generated, and the consequences of this prejudiced reporting for immigrant communities who feel themselves to be under constant attack.”
‘As for the volume as a whole, ‘useful’ would be an understatement. It can be described as essential for anyone seeking an antidote to the type of journalism it castigates.’ Stuart Parkes.
Teaching and Training
I have been teaching for over 15 years during which time I have accumulated extensive experience of curriculum and course design, teaching and assessing students across a range of subject areas and levels of higher education in the areas of Media and Political Communication, Sociology, Politics, Research Methods and even English as a Foreign Language. I have extensive management and administrative experience, having won awards for line managing junior teaching and research staff, and am familiar with higher education HR processes. I have experience designing curriculum and courses and developing innovative teaching including role plays for the students. I currently teach at American University where I teach COMM100 Understanding Media, and I taught at Bard College, Annandale on Hudson, New York in the Human Rights Program in 2019-21 where I designed two unique courses:
‘Propaganda: Dark Arts in a Digital Age’ – Spring 2020
‘Contemporary Propaganda: Cambridge Analytica and the Digital Influence Industry’ – Spring 2021
I am invested in the knowledge exchange between academia and industry / policy stakeholders and have developed and delivered highly successful executive education courses to that end, encompassing: counter-extremism, ethics and information operations, disinformation and US national security. This includes:
Workshop with Syracuse University for the Government Accountability Office (2021) ‘Tackling Disinformation and Extremism in DOD and the Military: Key Issues & Proposals,’ as the US Government has sought to respond to the events of January 6.
Foreign Service Institute, US Department of State (2021) ‘Systemic Problems in the Digital Age’ a Propaganda and Disinformation course in the Global Issues Program.
I am a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy of the United Kingdom, qualifying me to teach in universities and colleges. My teaching at University of Essex Department of Journalism included the undergraduate first year module Principles of Journalism, Contemporary History and Public Affairs. For University of Sheffield I designed a module ‘Propaganda, Media and Conflict in a Changing World’ – the above photo was taken during a role play I designed for that course and is used with the students permission. I also supervise PhD dissertations and my other duties have included role of Ethics Officer and organising a departmental Speaker Series. I often arrange public talks with fascinating experts which can be seen on my YouTube including:
Brittany Kaiser, former Director of Business Development at Cambridge Analytica
Ade Rudd, a former UK army PSYOP Warrant Officer and expert on deception who has written doctrine for NATO.
Grants and Awards
- My 2 Masters degrees and PhD were funded by studentships including a 1+3 award from the Economics and Social Research Council (ESRC)
- Co-Investigator (CI) on an ESRC Seminar Series Grant (£30,000, with Vian Bakir Primary Investigator (PI)) DATA-PSST! Debating and Assessing Transparency Arrangements: Privacy, Security, Sur/Sous/Veillance & Trust – 2014
- CI on the White Rose Collaboration Fund Award (£10,660 as CI, with Dr Alexandra Hall PI) for ‘Europe, migration and the new politics of (in)security’ – 2016-17
- I gained faculty funding for 2 research assistants (2014-15) and a methods workshop ‘Hidden Power: Innovative Methods for Researching Power in a Post-Snowden Era’ (31st May 2016)
- I secured a prestigious Post-Doctoral Scientist opportunity to work with Robert M Entman at George Washington University School of Media and Public Affairs – 2016-17
- I was awarded a $50k Fellowship by the Institute for New Economic Thinking in New York City to fund my writing of my new book Propaganda Machine and position at Bard College – 2019
- I was awarded a $25k Fellowship by the Institute for New Economic Thinking in New York City to fund my as I’m writing my new book Propaganda Machine and position at Bard College – 2020
- I was awarded a $25k Fellowship by the Open Society Foundation Universities Network to fund me while I’m writing my new book Propaganda Machine and position at Bard College – 2020
Selected Talks and Invitations
In 2015 I had the privilege of being an NYU Visiting Scholar. While there I conducted research, visited Prof. Terence Moran and Prof. Steven Lukes, and taught in the Department of Media, Culture and Communication and Department of Sociology. Here I am with Prof. Lukes’ classes of 2015 and 2017, I am honored to have continued to be invited to give guest lectures on propaganda and on Cambridge Analytica in Prof. Lukes’ classes on power every year since.
In July and August I then was invited to George Washington University – a wonderful experience being a visiting scholar in the School of Media and Public Affairs, meeting all the staff and developing new research.
Debating at Cambridge University Union:
I returned to SMPA in 2016-17 having won a prestigious post-doctoral opportunity to spend the academic year progressing research and publications, including a planned book co-authored with Prof. Robert M Entman. Here we are presenting our research at the Humboldt Colloquium in Washington DC.
I have given numerous academic and public talks and visited university departments in several countries. During my sabbatical in 2018, as I worked on propaganda research and a co-authored book with Prof. Robert M Entman, I returned to SMPA at George Washington University, who invited me back as a visiting scholar (April-June). I was also excited to have been a visiting scholar at Georgetown University’s Al Waleed Center for Muslim Christian Understanding by Prof. John Esposito, and Stanford University’s Department of Communication by Prof. Fred Turner in July and August 2018. It was a privilege to have such a great opportunity to spend time with three great communities of scholars, and be immersed in American politics, media and culture throughout such an interesting and transformational period of American history.
Knowledge Exchange and Engagement
My first invited talk was in 2006 for NATO Centre for Defence Against Terrorism in Ankara and since then I have been honoured that my research has been discussed in the British Parliament US Congress and has had substantial political impacts. These included opportunities to brief government officials, NGOs, inquiries and investigations. Many of these resulted from my role in revealing the Cambridge Analytica scandal. My publications on this as well as my work on refugees, inequality, and conflict propaganda have all received substantial media reporting.
Speaking at Schools
Research Interviews at the Pentagon
PhD Sociology, jointly supervised in Politics, University of Glasgow, UK (2011)
Economics and Social Research Council Studentship funded
Diploma in Literature & Creative Writing, Open University, UK (2010)
MSc Sociology University of Glasgow, UK (2007)
Economics and Social Research Council Studentship funded
MRes (Business and Public Management Research) Glasgow Caledonian University, UK (2004)
Departmental Studentship Funded
BA International Relations & Politics (Hons), Coventry University, UK (2003)
Other Writing and Interests
I also write creative work including amateur short fiction and film, some of which can be seen on this website alongside my academic work. I also am learning to paint with watercolours. I am a member of SUSAC, the Sheffield University Sub-Aqua Club and enjoying training to be a BSAC ‘Ocean Diver’. See below: