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article imageAddressing 'fake news' through sound science

By Tim Sandle     Dec 28, 2017 in Science
For any person used to a reasoned and balanced interpretation of facts, the 'fake news' era is of great concern. To combat misinformation, researchers have proposed a new international non-governmental organization.
The aim of the proposed international non-governmental organization would be to create a rating system for disinformation. This would mean that if an article was to be posted, purportedly as news on, say, disputing climate change, the body would review the article. Once the organization had decide then the independent rulings could then be conveyed via technology.
This could, for instance, be a warning symbol alongside an article (much like Facebook proposed and then dropped, as Digital Journal recently reported). Other media firms like Google are experimenting with artificial intelligence to determine whether an article is likely to be trustworthy.
Fake news era
Opinion, often ill-founded, is increasingly being portrayed as 'news' and such 'news' is increasingly lacking in facts or supporting research. Such is the extent of misinformation that some media commentators talk of a 'post-truth' world. This tendency has increased following Donald Trump, an establishment businessman, becoming President of the U.S. This has been supported by an increasingly fractured and partisan media environment. This environment develops an arena whereby “alternative facts” are freely expressed without the need for these facts to be tested through the usual academic rigor.
Other societal changes paving the way for 'fake news', according to the researchers, are decline in social capital, growing economic inequality, increased polarization, and a declining trust in science. This is partly because, the researchers contend, knowledge is increasingly seen as 'elitist', something to be challenged by a free-for-all opinion market led by a partisan media.
Challenging misinformation through technology
To help to combat misinformation on social media, researchers Stephan Lewandowsky, Ullrich Ecker, and John Cook have put together a series of proposals which they describe as "technological solutions incorporating psychological principles" or 'technocognition'. Central to these ideas is the international non-governmental organization; there are, however, other proposed measures.
The researchers suggest the use of inoculation theory techniques. This is designed to dislodge misinformation as it begins to take hold. This involves explaining the errors with the news story, and the following assumption that people do not appreciate being tricked with 'fake news' and, as he theory runs, people are likely to reject the information.
A further measure is to add to university courses guidance about identifying misinformation. Here the idea, as The Guardian reports, is that by identifying misinformation techniques this will help inoculate younger people against the corrosive effects of the partisan news.
The idea of a neutral, international non-governmental organization has been made in the Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition. The paper is titled "Beyond Misinformation: Understanding and Coping with the “Post-Truth” Era."
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