May 2, 2017

Outreach to conservatives, increased collaboration between journalists and academics and more data from major social media companies could help fight the tide of fake news, according to a report released Monday by the the Harvard Kennedy School and Northeastern University.

The premise of the first recommendation — involving more conservative voices and institutions like the Cato and Koch Institutes — is likely to be the most controversial of the report.

…While any group can come to believe false information, misinformation is currently predominantly a pathology of the right, and extreme voices from the right have been continuously attacking the mainstream media (Benkler et al., 2017). As a result, some conservative voters are even suspicious of fact-checking sites (Allcott and Gentzkow, 2017).

Translating research into practice — and using real-life newsroom experience as a basis for research — was another key proposal.

One option is to support their working together in newsrooms, where researchers could both serve as in-house experts and gather data for applied research.

More specifically, some of the participants gathered in Cambridge suggested the creation of a Wikipedia for trustworthy data on newsy topics.

The resource would provide journalists with cheap and reliable sources of information so that well-sourced reporting can outpace the spread of misinformation on social media. Such tools could also provide pointers to data sources, background context for understanding meaningful statistics, civics information or lists of experts to consult on a given topic.

The final recommendation is a plea for more data from social media platforms that will resonate with journalists, too.

In order to understand today’s technologies and prioritize the public interest over corporate and other interests, the academic community as a whole needs to be able to conduct research on these systems. Typically, however, accessing data for research is either impossible or difficult, whether due to platform constraints, constraints on sharing, or the size of the data. Consequently, it is difficult to conduct new research or replicate prior studies.

Academics shouldn’t stop probing if access to data from the big platforms is not forthcoming, the report says.

With very little collaboration academics can still join forces to create a panel of people’s actions over time, ideally from multiple sources of online activity both mobile and non-mobile (e.g. MediaCloud, Volunteer Science, IBSEN, TurkServer).

The report includes an overview of the research presented in February on how misinformation spreads and on its capacity to be corrected. (The latter errs somewhat on the side of excessive pessimism by failing to cite recent findings.)

Read the full report here.

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Alexios Mantzarlis joined Poynter to lead the International Fact-Checking Network in September of 2015. In this capacity he writes about and advocates for fact-checking. He…
Alexios Mantzarlis

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