Special Report: Taming the wild west of misinformation

09:41 AM Feb 16, 2022 | PTI |

Melbourne:  The spread of false information online continues to worsen. We’re examining the extent of the problem, and looking at those developing solutions to fight it.


Rampant misinformation is causing noticeable harm and at times is killing people through undermining COVID-related public health advice, promoting myths about the effects of vaccines, and trumpeting radical conspiracy theories.

And it’s not just misinformation. Disinformation (information created with the intent of causing harm) and mal-information (information used to inflict harm on a person, social group, organization or country) are running rampant. In this new media landscape, the winners are those best able to capture the audience’s attention — rewarding often outrageous content designed to drive the all-important clicks and eyeballs that make up a monetizable audience.

Underpinning and facilitating all this is the secretive world of algorithms — automated content filtering that recommends or prioritizes content for users based on learned behaviors and past reading preferences. Those filters shape what information and advertising we are shown – and not shown — yet very little is known about the inner workings of the world’s most powerful recommendation engines. The sophistication and spread of misinformation have developed too quickly for legislation to keep up. But the fightback is well underway with a range of initiatives to wrestle back control over the information space — and make it safer.

It is a battle being fought on many fronts from education to legislation, advertising revenues to cybersecurity. Here’s how the information wild west is being addressed — and tamed.


REALITY CHECK 48 percent of the 11,178 U.S. adults surveyed by the Pew Research Center in 2021 received their news through social media. An estimated US$235 million is paid annually to disinformation websites by companies in the advertising industry.

In the first three months of the pandemic alone, COVID-19 misinformation has been attributed as a catalyst for at least 800 deaths worldwide.

BIG IDEAS Quote attributable to Daniel J. Rogers, New York University ”The biggest global companies are those who provide the machinery to capture and monetize audience attention at scale. Today’s internet is powered by businesses that capture and profit from “clicks and eyeballs.” Quotes attributable to Tanya Notley, Western Sydney University “Misinformation is not going away and facing this challenge is complicated. Developing the media literacy of both children and adults is one way to push back against the problem, and build a sustainable future for a global information and media ecosystem.” ”A fully media literate citizen will be aware of the many ways they can use media to participate in society. They will know how media are created, funded, regulated, and distributed and they will understand their rights and responsibilities in relation to data and privacy.”


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