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Asking the right questions to stop information disorder

November 8, 2017 | By Rande Price, Research VP – DCN

Fraudulent news poses new challenges in today’s digital society. As such, there is a need for best practices and practical solutions to repair tainted digital information streams. In an effort to develop effective solutions and remedy the information disorder, the Council of Europe commissioned research to delve into the digital information and communication process. The newly released report, Information Disorder: Toward an interdisciplinary framework for research and policy, offers a detailed insights at a global scale and examines the agents, messages, and audiences involved.

The term “fake news” was intentionally not used in the report. Instead, three new terms were introduced to better define the reporting and sharing of false and inaccurate information.

  • Dis-information is false information purposely created to harm a person, a social group, an organization or a country.
  • Mis-information is false information not created with the intention of initiating harm.
  • Mal-information information that is based on reality used to bring harm to a person, a social group, an organization or a country.

The phases and elements of information disorder

Three components are identified in the process of information disorder: the agent, the message, and the interpreter. Agents are involved in all phases of the information chain from its creation, production to distribution. It’s important to explore and provide context to agents to identify them and their motivation. Discovering who the agent is, and the purpose of the message is an important part of the evaluation to help stop the information disorder process.

Evaluating the agent
  1. Is the agent acting as an official person/group (e.g. intelligence services), a politician, a news organization or an unofficial person/group?
  2. Is the agent organized as an individual, an official business group (e.g., PR firms or lobbying groups) or a group casually organized group around common interests?
  3. Is the agent motivated financially to profit from the information, politically to discredit a candidate, socially to connect with a specific group of people or psychologically to gain status?
  4. Is the agent human, automated by technology or both?
  5. What audience is the agent targeting?
  6. Is the agent’s intent to mislead??
  7. Is the agent’s intent to harm?
Examining the message

The message itself also needs to be examined. Analyzing the content for key characteristics is important to determine the accuracy of the information. Asking these questions will also help to identify intent of content.

  1. Is the message for short-term or long-term intent?
  2. How accurate is the message?
  3. Is the message legal or does it include hate speech or privacy infringements, etc.?
  4. Is the message posing as an official source to appear credible?
  5. Who is the intended audience?
Factoring in interpretation

The last component to evaluate in the process of information disorder is the interpreter, the recipient of the message. Audiences, individuals or groups, all react to messages in different manners. Understanding how individuals and groups consume information is critical to understanding the flow of the information. Further, identifying what audiences do with the information, such as commenting, or sharing, are an important part of understanding the intent of the content.

Fighting fakes

A few efforts were introduced last year to stop the information disorder. They include Tim Cook’s, CEO of Apple, call for Public Service Announcement about dis-information, new technologies to take down bots, and the addition of labels to identify different types of content on social media. Facebook and Google have also announced ways to prevent fake sites from earning ad revenue through their advertising platforms. Unfortunately, none of the programs impede the continuous flow of fraudulent content.

The issue is complex and efforts toward solutions need to work across multi-levels using technology companies, consumers, educational institutes and others. Importantly, it’s essential for all constituents to receive steady reminders

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