October 31, 2017

A new report provides a comprehensive analysis of how online misinformation has become widespread — and what technology companies, media organizations and governments can do to combat it.

The report, published today by First Draft News and commissioned by the Council of Europe — an intergovernmental organization focused on human rights — draws upon prior research, news articles and conferences to address what we know about “information disorder.” Think an online guide for inaccurate, misleading or malicious information.

“There’s just such an incredible community of scholars and practitioners and public intellectuals thinking and talking and writing about these things,” said Claire Wardle, executive director of First Draft, which is hosted in Harvard University's Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy. “I just wanted to write something that was a synthesis of these ideas.”

Broken up into six parts and an appendix, the publication goes through several different components of misinformation, including a conceptual framework for understanding it, the challenges it poses, attempts to solve them and future trends. Common themes include filter bubbles, echo chambers and declining trust in evidence.

But perhaps the most interesting part of the 109-page report is the sixth section, which prescribes 35 recommendations for combating misinformation around the world. The section includes calls to action for a wide range of stakeholders including industry, tech companies, media, governments, citizens, educators and foundations.

Wardle, who co-wrote the report with Hossein Derakhshan, said she feels confident that, if the report’s recommendations were carried out, the fight against misinformation would make steps forward. Creating an international panel to advise tech companies, helping media organizations avoid silly mistakes and encouraging foundations to write bigger and more targeted grants are among the most achievable goals in the short term, Wardle said.

But even the recommendations that won’t work would at least contribute something to the conversation about misinformation, she said.

“I wish we could try some of these things and then we’d be able to test them,” Wardle said. “We’re throwing spaghetti at the wall and we’re not testing what’s sticking.”

Here are the report’s recommendations to counter misinformation, broken up by industry. Read more about each here.

Technology companies

1. Create an international advisory council. 
2. Provide researchers with the data related to initiatives aimed at improving the quality of information. 
3. Provide transparent criteria for any algorithmic changes that down-rank content.
4. Work collaboratively.
5. Highlight contextual details and build visual indicators.
6. Eliminate financial incentives.
7. Crack down on computational amplification.
8. Adequately moderate non-English content.
9. Pay attention to audio/visual forms of mis- and disinformation.
10. Provide metadata to trusted partners.
11. Build fact-checking and verification tools.
12. Build "authenticity engines."
13. Work on solutions specifically aimed at minimizing the impact of filter bubbles.

National governments

14. Commission research to map information disorder.
15. Regulate ad networks.
16. Require transparency around Facebook ads.
17. Support public service media organizations and local news outlets.
18. Roll out advanced cyber-security training. 
19. Enforce minimum levels of public service news onto the platforms.

Media organizations

20. Collaborate. 
21. Agree on policies on strategic silence. 
22. Ensure strong ethical standards across all media.
23. Debunk sources as well as content.
24. Produce more segments and features about critical information consumption.
25. Tell stories about the scale and threat posed by information disorder.
26. Focus on improving the quality of headlines.
27. Don’t disseminate fabricated content.

Civil society

28. Educate the public about the threat of information disorder.
29. Act as honest brokers.

Education ministries

30. Work internationally to create a standardized news literacy curriculum.
31. Work with libraries.
32. Update journalism school curricula.

Grant-making foundations

33. Provide support for testing solutions.
34. Support technological solutions.
35. Support programs teaching people critical research and information skills.

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Daniel Funke is a staff writer covering online misinformation for PolitiFact. He previously reported for Poynter as a fact-checking reporter and a Google News Lab…
Daniel Funke

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