How will Co-Inform Tackle Misinformation and Make a Difference in our Society?

Author: Dimitris Sotirchos, Researcher at eGovlab, Stockholm University 

What is the issue?

Misinformation is one of the most pressing issues that the online world is facing today. Digital technology has advanced at lightning speed, and algorithms used by social media platforms have been becoming more and more complex. Because of this, the consequences of online misinformation and its impact on real life are only now emerging. The ubiquitous and loose term “fake news” has risen to the surface and has become a hot topic frequently discussed in the public sphere. A multitude of academic research has been taking place in recent years on the reasons online misinformation has spread so much, on its impact on society and on potential ways to effectively fight it. The Co-Inform research project aims to contribute towards this ambitious goal by focusing on intra-European, multidisciplinary research targeting three main stakeholder groups that could help turn this problem around: policymakers, journalists and citizens.

Why is it imperative to act?

Academic surveys have shown that online misinformation is becoming more difficult to discern by the human eye. After asking readers to distinguish between a hoax and true articles, Stanford University researchers showed that humans made a correct identification just 66 percent of the times. And this research included both media-savvy and less educated readers. What does this show us? That online misinformation has the potential to deceive even readers with strong literacy skills. And due to the amplifying factor of social-media platforms, it can reach larger numbers than ever. Echo-chambers which are digital spaces where like-minded opinions just confirm each other, get boosted by algorithms and thus erect even thicker walls between online users with opposing views. Online misinformation can even lead to real-life consequences as recent anti-immigrant violence showed in Chemnitz, Germany. If we take it a step further and try to see the bigger picture, misinformation has the potential to lead to erosion of the public’s trust towards institutions and media and to dangerously disrupt the political debate in Europe ahead of several crucial elections in 2019.

How can research address the issue?

The Co-Inform project will aim at making an impact on European society by conducting research in 3 different EU countries greatly affected by the combination of anti-immigration rhetoric and online misinformation. Co-Inform consortium partners believe that researching both the technological and behavioral aspects of this phenomenon is imperative in order to have a real impact on society. Online misinformation detection techniques that make use of big data analysis need to be combined with behavioral research regarding a user’s attitude when confronted with false information. Co-Inform aims to make a difference by involving three categories of stakeholders that have the largest stake in the fight against misinformation: policymakers, journalists and citizens

  • Citizens: Using the methodology of co-creation, Co-Inform researchers will use a bottom-up approach to understand the end-users’ needs when it comes to tools automatically detecting misinformation online. Co-Inform will use this feedback and researchers will be able to adjust and correct the tools’ technological capabilities accordingly.
  • Policymakers: Co-Inform will support policymakers with the creation of informed policies against the spread of misinformation. Support from a diverse group of International Institutions and NGOs will assist the Co-Inform consortium in widening the range of its research and reach of its results.
  • Journalists: Co-Inform aims at providing our fact-checking partners with adequate technology to overcome issues related to the high volume of online misinformation that they need to check. Furthermore, the effectiveness of current fact-checking methods will be assessed by examining public perception during all co-creation sessions.

The Co-Inform project aims at addressing these issues at a crucial moment in the European Union’s history. Fighting online misinformation is more than getting rid of online trolls. It is about restoring trust towards public institutions and journalism and by extension restoring citizens’ faith in the democratic process.

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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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