Topical Seminar on Fact-Checking, Misinformation And Journalism Education


Снимок экрана 2021-10-05 в 16.09.26.pngProfessor Oscar Westlund presented an overview of the ongoing work conducted jointly with his colleagues Valérie Bélair-Gagnon (University of Minnesota-Twin Cities), Lucas Graves (University of Wisconsin-Madison), Rebekah Larsen (Oslo Metropolitan University), and Steen Steensen (Oslo Metropolitan University). The scholar introduced the project called Source Criticism and Mediated Disinformation (SCAM), designed to develop new knowledge and methods suited to detect and counter disinformation, with a particular emphasis on the role of the emerging technologies.

Together with colleagues, Professor Westlund developed an analytical framework of the 4 A’s that affect the spread of misinformation: actors, actants, activities, and audiences. Actors include professional fact-checkers, such as journalists and technologists. Actants include technologies themselves: apps, algorithms and networks, which are now empowered to act on our behalf. Activities imply particular actions in the fact-checking practice afforded by technology. Audiences can be viewed as mere recipients, as commodities and also as active participants.

Scholars further aimed to explore the role of specific human social actors and technological actants in distinct fact-checking activities. After identifying three main stages of such activities: identification, verification, and distribution; the research group also singled out three interrelated elements: activities (direct actions by actors and actants), materiality (technologies), and reflexivity (reflections on the activities and materiality).

Professor Westlund then introduced some of the technological actants as materialities with agency. This is a fundamentally new approach, since little attention was previously given to the agency of technologies. The researcher spoke about different fact-checking programs enabling identification of fake information. In this regard, he outlined a Facebook tool called Crowdtangle, and a cross-platform AI service called Dataminr. The scholar also mentioned that the existing technologies could be further advanced by being adapted to specific cultural contexts. Professor Westlund went on to speak about verification tools and platforms, such as inVID, Google Earth Pro, Factiverse and ClaimBuster, which allow for different types of verification procedures.

The scholar finished his talk by discussing the distribution stage. He outlined the dominant role of platforms, which presents a certain challenge, since the platforms not only host the content but also impact the moderation, organization and redistribution of the content.

Dr. Maria Lukina viewed the problem of dis-/misinformation from the educational angle. Like her foreign colleague, she presented the preliminary results of the ongoing research. In her talk, Dr. Lukina was referring to the international study, conducted this year under the umbrella of WJEC and aimed at exploring the views of journalism educators on the future roles, values and qualifications of the profession. The data was collected via the online questionnaire, which touched upon the following issues: future professional tasks and required skills, neutrality and objectivity of journalists, ethical issues, and employment prospects.

Dr. Lukina shared the results of the Russian segment of research, conducted in 57 cities of the Russian Federation. Among the most demanded tasks in the future, Russian journalism educators unanimously outlined the task to select only verifiable stories, which shows that they attach key significance to the verification of information. Other important tasks included directing people towards problem resolution, exposing social abuses, providing in-depth background information, and providing analysis and interpretation.

Russian journalism professors also agreed that key principles of journalistic neutrality and objectivity consist in transparency about the working process, absence of value judgments and non-interference of personal convictions and beliefs. However, another popular opinion in this regard is that journalists should promote social change. Thus, three most popular journalistic roles outlined by the journalism educators are: objective disseminator, impartial investigator and social mobiliser.

Dr. Maria Lukina concluded that the study revealed the general awareness within the community of journalism educators of the problems of mis- /disinformation. The scholar underlined that current journalism training programs already include lectures and workshops on fact-checking and verification procedures. However, in order to prevent the low quality of information, new programs should be set up to train other clusters of people, whose activities relate to the sphere of mass communications.

Topical seminar is a project launched by the Faculty of Journalism in the spring semester of 2021, which has already garnered attention of Russian and international researchers in media, communications and journalism. The idea behind is to organize a platform for sharing valuable insights and results of the latest research in this sphere of studies. The event is of utmost importance both for the integration of national research studies into international academic environment, and for the conceptualization of distinctive features of Russian media studies. Topical seminars are held online on the first Tuesday of every month and are available for any listener registered in advance.