Social Media’s misinformation war

Home Technologist 12 Social Media’s misinformation war

Researchers look for solutions to address the distortion of online information. 


While news was once the purview of journalists, social media algorithms increasingly drive the process by which information reaches consumers. Information and misinformation – much of which reverberates in online echo chambers that serve only to confirm existing views and prejudices.

► Technologist spoke with Walter Quattrociocchi, head computational social scientist at the IMT School for Advanced Studies in Lucca, Italy.

TECHNOLOGIST What have you learned from researching echo chambers?

WALTER QUATTROCIOCCHI We did massive data analysis on millions of Facebook users in which we studied the fusion of scientific news and conspiracy news across public pages. We analysed five years’ worth of posts and found that people just join one narrative, are surrounded by users with the same attitude and collaborate to reinforce this, without considering the other narrative. The actual problem behind misinformation is this polarisation of narratives – such as science vs. conspiracy, or official institutions vs. populist campaigns.

TECHNOLOGIST What can be done?

WALTER QUATTROCIOCCHI We hope we can find a simple mechanism to apply to online interactions that can reduce polarisation. We are thus working to find funding to open a media observatory this year, by the name of Pandoors, probably in Geneva. It will be a third-party institution open to all scientists working to deal with these phenomena, with a board composed of journalists, prominent scientists and people from international organisations like the World Economic Forum.

TECHNOLOGIST What role should social media providers play?

WALTER QUATTROCIOCCHI We’re asking them to participate actively because flagging of fake news will not alone solve the problem of people ignoring information they disagree with. Facebook is starting to collaborate with newsrooms and becoming more sensitive to the problem. But since their power to shape public opinion is enormous, we need a third-party organisation to be granted access to monitor what they are doing with algorithms and how it affects the spread of information.

By Joe Dodgshun @JDJourno


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