Misinformation About Misinformation?: Report Advises “Don’t Hit Delete”

It’s hard to remember a time before we spoke animatedly about fake news and misinformation. For years now there has been primetime public discussion about the divisiveness of online content, and the way social media platforms can effortlessly propagate harmful conspiracy theories, as well as other baseless assertions masquerading as facts.

In 2018, Dictionary.com announced that misinformation was its “word of the year,” and before that scholars like Caroline Jack made valiant efforts to define the many types of online deceit, as in her 2017 study, Lexicon of Lies.

With a certain amount of discomfort, we have come to accept the downstream effects of users being trapped in “echo chambers” and the “filter bubbles” that reinforce and amplify false and harmful dialogue (with potentially devastating real-world consequences).

Many organizations — from NGOs to Big Tech — have pledged to fight misinformation and the circumstances that catalyze it’s spread, and there have been loud calls to identify and remove misleading content. When COVID-19 came along, ensuring scientific information wasn’t drowned out by falsehoods became a matter of life and death, and many platforms did axe posts to protect users (see YouTube and Facebook).

It is curious, then, that a new report by The Royal Society named The Online Information Environment calls into question some popular assumptions about misinformation.

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