11 July 2019 14:14
A paper by Dr Eileen Culloty and Dr Jane Suiter was presented at the annual conference of the International Association for Media and Communication Research (IAMCR) in Madrid. The paper 'Beyond Fact-Checking: Incorporating Citizen Needs into Disinformation Countermeasures' was presented in the Journalism Research and Education section.
Abstract: Disinformation presents a major threat to social and political stability as it undermines the legitimacy of factual claims and the role of journalism as a fourth estate. In response to this threat, there has been a rapid rise in online information supports that aim to safeguard citizens against false or misleading information. Fact-checking and verification initiatives determine the accuracy and authenticity of online content while trust labels evaluate the credibility of online sources. Globally, such initiatives are gaining support from a wide range of media outlets, policy actors, and technology developers. However, the effectiveness of these countermeasures is dependent upon their ability to address the information needs of citizens including the range of political, technological, and societal factors that underpin post-truth culture. Currently, the information needs of citizens are poorly understood and existing research indicates that corrections are ineffective for certain demographic groups and may even reinforce or amplify false information. In this context, we present a research agenda for incorporating citizen needs into disinformation countermeasures. Arguing against the assumption that disinformation may be countered through exposure to correct information, we propose that countermeasures need to be grounded in research from three overlapping areas: (1) a theoretical understanding of how new social and political identities are shaping the wider context of post-truth culture; (2) an empirical understanding of how citizens evaluate online information vis-ŕ-vis their identities and prior beliefs; and (3) an empirical understanding of the effectiveness of different kinds of information support across demographic groups and disinformation contexts. Ultimately, we argue that efforts to counter disinformation need to shift from a fact-centred model based on authoritative corrections to a citizen-centred model that is responsive to diverse information needs, attitudes, and practices. This argument is supplemented with findings from focus group research in Ireland and Spain. Working with older (40-60 years) and younger (20-30 years) cohorts, we investigate the links between citizens media consumption patterns, attitudes towards controversial information, and evaluations of different kinds of information support. These findings contribute to a deeper understanding of the disinformation environment from the perspective of citizens and to the development of more robust countermeasures that meet the needs of citizens.