Successive crises in recent years such as BREXIT, the COVID-19 pandemic, the Belarusian migration crisis, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine; all have been fanned into flames by misinformation either directly or indirectly. The Oxford dictionary of politics describes misinformation as ‘misleading information presented as fact, either intentionally or unintentionally’.
Technology & consequences
Digital and social media can contribute to the spread of misinformation when users share information without first checking the legitimacy of the information they have found. The increasing use of search engines and social media applications such as Instagram, Facebook and Google have also impacted the way we interpret and receive news media & information.
Personalised algorithms from these systems all generate newsfeeds based on the information they know about our technological devices, locations and online interests. Although two people can search for the same thing, they are likely to get different results based on what social media platforms deem relevant to their interests, fact or fiction (fake).
On social media this can lead to what researchers call ‘echo chambers’, when beliefs are reinforced by communication and repetition inside a closed system insulated from outside rebuttal. This can unintentionally reinforce personal confirmation bias, cementing presupposed narratives or perceptions of communities and what we deem European, democratic or truthful.
Informed societies make better decisions
The power of misinformation on social media cannot be overstated. It is transcendental in nature, difficult to police and arguably the greatest weapon of the information age. As online misinformation becomes harder to identify, the European Commission along with REA, the European Research Executive Agency, is resolute in its ongoing commitment to funding science and research projects that will give EU citizens the tools to avoid the pitfalls of ‘fake news’. The following are a series of Horizon Europe funded initiatives:
The Co-Inform project has created a tool that will help you identify misinformation via a transparent misinformation tracker for your web browser. The project can be described as a misinformation detection system, but with a twist: it provides the general public with evidence as to why their content is tagged as misinformation. Just like misinformation detection, misinformation linking is based on automated algorithms which predict whether a given content is misleading. It finds existing credibility signals online (reviews by reputable fact checkers, reputation ratings), evaluates previous posts from the same source, and estimates the accuracy of content based on social media reactions. To contrast misinformation online, the project has involved citizens, journalists, fact checkers and policy makers. Co-Inform can be installed either as a browser extension for the general public or as a dashboard for policymakers and journalists. The dashboard version allows users to filter tweets or articles by topic and labels them as credible or not credible.
Find out more about Co-inform
Trust is the basis of scientific communication
In 2020, the trust gap between traditional and online media in Europe persists: broadcast media enjoys higher trust, while the Internet and social networks are found to be least trusted in 85% of countries assessed (Eurobarometer 2020). The media is critical for translating and disseminating scientific information from researchers to the general public. The TRESCA project focuses on understanding how science communication can re-build trust in science. The project’s goals are to systematically understand what drives public trust in science communication through large scale, experimental survey research and qualitative, deliberative research. TRESCA seeks to empower people through knowledge in today’s digital environment. Their latest project, ‘Ms.W: the Misinformation Widget’, a software prototype to help judge whether what you are reading is reliable or not, is a testament to their commitment to fighting misinformation.
Find out more about TRESCA
Quality data drives research performance
Given the ubiquity of social media, and the immense amount of new social media data continuously created, there is a growing need to derive meaningful insights from “big” social data by combining different methods. The purpose of RISE Social Media Analytics (RISE SMA) is to create an interdisciplinary, international network of specialised scholars and practitioners for social media data. RISE SMA aims to improve relevant tasks such as the tracking, preparation and analysis as well as the aggregation, visualisation, and interpretation of social media data. Application areas range from crisis communication and political communication to marketing research and customer acquisition for businesses. The need for more interdisciplinary and international cooperation is especially evident in the two focus areas of RISE SMA: crisis communication and the societal impact of social media.
Find out more about RISE SMA
The future of online misinformation for EU and me
This article acknowledges that tackling what is truth or misinformation will require more than just fact checks and debunking false claims. Critical thinking and state sponsored information literacy campaigns beyond university level are also crucial. Get involved now and see what other tools and campaigns the EU has to offer on tackling fake news:
- Data tal-pubblikazzjoni
- 5 April 2022
- L-Aġenzija Eżekuttiva Ewropea għar-Riċerka