In times of crisis, people turn to the media for information that they can trust. What responsibilities do old and new media organisations have to address the problem of “junk news” spreading rapidly? How can businesses earn trust in a climate of confusion, uncertainty and misinformation?
In this broadcast of our "Leading in Extraordinary Times" series, Professor Andrew Stephen led a discussion with Professor Phil Howard, Director of the Oxford Internet Institute and Oxford Saïd Fellows Dr Alex Connock and Rachel Botsman.
"We shouldn't underestimate the information void people are feeling from government, and credible institutions and organisations. They're filling that gap with emotion and misinformation, and going to less trustworthy sources."
So said Oxford Saïd Fellow Rachel Botsman during a discussion on Misinformation, Media, and Trust, joined by another Saïd Fellow, Dr Alex Connock; Professor Phil Howard, Director of the Oxford Internet Institute, and Professor Andrew Stephen, as chair.
According to the panel, several factors had 'set the scene' for widespread misinformation – including the operational structure of social networks, which allow 'junk' material to be shared rapidly among huge networks.
In parallel, social media networks played a role in 'peak' levels of misinformation in 2015/2016 as Brexit, the Trump election campaign, and questions around Cambridge Analytica unfolded. In addition, state-backed news agencies in China and Russian had deployed misinformation campaigns to undermine Western democracies . Those behind misinformation campaigns were applying more advanced social media techniques than many 'legitimate' communicators.
But there is hope. Social media networks and governments could enable greater public scrutiny of information by moving towards 'open data.' Society is again respecting the views of experts, including academics. Researchers can maintain profile in the debate by sharing compelling and 'human' stories about their work, and we can all take personal responsibility to check content accuracy before sharing, said the panel.