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Misinformation targeted by Stirling researcher

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Tackling false information in news reports, the public sphere and on social media was the focus of a world-first event co-organised by a University of Stirling researcher.

MisinfoConX is a public engagement and knowledge exchange initiative, run by Hacks/Hackers Scotland. It is an offshoot of the annual global misinformation summit MisinfoCon.

Stirling PhD researcher Bissie Anderson, based in the Division of Communications, Media and Culture, said: “It will be the first MisinfoConX event in the world, so we’re blazing a trail. Our event will facilitate debate around the phenomenon of misinformation that plagues our public discourse and is considered one of the biggest threats to democracy and humankind, along with climate change and war.

Bissie Anderson

Bissie Anderson, PhD Researcher

“It’s a platform to discuss how misinformation emerged, what the factors fuelling it are and how we could help tackle it.

“As it is an all-pervasive phenomenon that takes many shapes and forms and has had a variety of historical factors contributing to it, we will aim to approach it from multiple angles. We will consider technological convergence, the history of propaganda and spin, the falling trust in traditional journalism, participatory culture, the structures of social media platforms – engineered to make us share emotional rather than fact-based content – and take into account human psychology and how our brains process information, resulting in cognitive biases that drive our actions online.

“All these factors play a role in shaping our post-truth, post-fact reality – destabilising our public sphere and posing a threat to democratic processes. When people don’t know what and who they can trust, they can’t make an informed decision, which ultimately affects public deliberation.”

Distinctive

The event featured an ‘ethical’ hacker outlining how bots are built, fact-checking workshops with external experts and workshops on finding solutions.

Ms Anderson, who organised the event with independent media researcher Dr Jennifer Jones, said it was important MisinfoConX was held in Scotland, due to its distinctive media environment. She added: “Scotland is considerably more prone to disinformation due to the multiple divisions that define our public debate – whether it’s around the constitutional debate, Brexit, or football.

“Our ultimate goal is to find ways to raise awareness of the threat of information disorder and educate the public about how to detect and challenge false information. This includes recognising and being mindful of our own biases, being critical about information we see in social but also traditional media, and improving media literacy in Scotland.”

The event was held in Codebase Stirling, on Thursday 31 January.

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