How does Co-Inform fit in the European Commission’s strategy to shape Europe’s Digital Future?

AuthorsDimitris Sotirchos, Researcher at eGovlab, Stockholm University

False information online can take many forms. Sometimes, it comes in the form of strategically designed foreign influence operations or political ads. Other times, it’s in the form of clickbait and false advertising, or conspiracy theories spreading within social media groups. And in the past few months, it’s often centred on a new topic: COVID-19.

This should come as no surprise. If the growing anti-vaccination movement has taught us anything, it’s that information concerning public health is fertile ground for falsehoods —whether that’s on purpose (disinformation) or by mistake (misinformation).

But we’ve seen false information about the global pandemic spread even faster and farther than usual.

This is likely due to a combination of reasons. Firstly, lockdown measures have led most of us to spend even more time online, reading and sharing content without necessarily verifying it first. Furthermore, uncertainty within the scientific community regarding this new virus has made verifying information even harder than what it usually is. And examples of coronavirus-related falsehoods are all around us. Perhaps the most prominent example is the 5G/coronavirus conspiracy, as well as the widely-shared conspiratorial documentary Plandemic, which has been viewed on Youtube more than 8 million times.

Thankfully, this rise in false information is being met by the EU with the seriousness it deserves.

Gradually becoming a major player in this fight, the EU has been addressing this problem from many different angles. For instance, the European Commission’s Code of Practice against disinformation has been scrutinising the relationship between online ads, social media and search engines, closely looking at the funding behind false information shared online. Furthermore, the EU vs Disinfo team from the European External Action Service is focusing on digging up and debunking disinformation spread by state entities outside the EU. A more comprehensive approach against the current ‘infodemic’ has also been published in a Joint Communication, paving the way for the misinformation-related sections of the upcoming European Democracy Action Plan and the Digital Services Act.

So how does Co-Inform, as an EU-funded, academic, technology and policy research project fit into the EC’s multi-faceted strategy to tackle this issue?

For over 2 years, Co-inform Partners have been researching how users react to false information online, as well as the best tools to fight it. More specifically, Co-inform has looked at the intersection of technology and behavioural science. How do people react when a post in their social media feed is labelled as not credible? Are they less likely to share it? Or do they just feel ‘infantilised’? And if that’s the case, how can such tools be improved to achieve the desired results? It’s by focusing on how any solutions are perceived by the public that we can ensure that they are fit for purpose.

Through its focus on the end-user, the public, Co-inform can be a cornerstone of knowledge on how technology and policies can successfully be implemented to help guide people through this maze of false information we currently find ourselves in.

We hope that the many insights coming out of Co-inform’s multidisciplinary approach to research will enrich the EU’s understanding of this complex issue and that the project’s scientifically researched policy recommendations can help shape the EU’s response moving forward.

Co-Inform’s mission is to foster critical thinking and digital literacy. 

Academic surveys have shown that online misinformation is becoming more difficult to identify. Online misinformation has the potential to deceive even readers with strong literacy skills. Our goal is to provide citizens, journalists, and policymakers with tools to spot ‘fake news’ online, understand how they spread, and obtain access to verified information.

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Co-Inform Copyright 2021

Co-inform project is co-funded by Horizon 2020 – the Framework Programme for Research and Innovation (2014-2020)
Type of action: RIA (Research and Innovation action)
Proposal number: 770302

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