Misinformation on social media; what it is, why we believe in it, and how we can fight it – Webinar

November 20th, 2021 by

In the current times of COVID-19 pandemic, the dangers emerging from misinformation have become very clear to everyone threatening social and individual health, societal stability, and Democracy altogether.  

EUNOMIA has been developing a socio-technical solution to support social media users to assess the trustworthiness of online information. The tools have been informed by research on human and societal factors that contribute to the consumption and spread of misinformation. 

EUNOMIA’s partners Dr Pinelopi Troullinou, Senior Research Analyst at Trilateral Research, and Diotima Bertel, Senior Research at SYNYO GmbH delivered a MOOC-based webinar in November 2021 discussing misinformation on social media.  It aimed to inform and raise awareness amongst social media users of the rise of the “infodemic”, explain the societal and human factors contributing to the spread of misinformation, and finally introduce the best practices to support them protecting themselves and their network. 

Framing the problem of misinformation is an important step to be able to address it. The facilitators discussed the current issue of misinformation and distinguished between misinformation and other information disorders, such as disinformation and malinformation.

EUNOMIA focuses on misinformation spread mainly by average users with no intention to harm. With the rise of COVID-19, the WHO declared an infodemic which refers to the fast spread of (mis)information through a large community of users. Thus, it becomes increasingly more difficult for users to make decisions about which information to trust. 

In this context, the societal and psychological factors that lead us to consume and spread false information were explored explaining how social media users striving for consistency and like-mindedness expose themselves selectively mainly to information that confirms their prior beliefs. These insights support the user to reflect on their online behaviour.  

The facilitators also discussed the structural characteristics of social media that amplify the phenomenon of misinformation such as the sharing culture and filter bubbles.  

Finally, the facilitators introduced nine simple information hygiene guidelines that users can adopt reducing the risk of acting upon and sharing misinformation to one’s network.  

EUNOMIA’s tools have been designed to reflect these guidelines and support social media users to critically engage with online information.  

Fifty-five people attended the event which lasted 90 minutes closing with a very engaging discussion with attendees.

The webinar was recorded and can be found here: https://youtu.be/oSIL6dijxWM

Interactive Online Workshop; Misinformation on social media and best practices in Greek

October 20th, 2021 by

In an interactive virtual workshop, the EUNOMIA platform was presented to a Greek audience. Participants had the opportunity to register on EUNOMIA’s private Mastodon instance and test the tools that aim to support them in deciding whether a post is trustworthy or not.  

The workshop was delivered by EUNOMIA’s partner Dr Pinelopi Troullinou, Senior Research Analyst at Trilateral Research, in Greek in line with the project’s inclusive approach. Overall, 48 participants took part in the workshop which lasted for an hour and a half.  

The aim of the workshop was to raise awareness on social media misinformation, test the EUNOMIA platform, and obtain participants’ feedback.  

Pinelopi introduced the EUNOMIA project and gave an overview of the problem of misinformation. The concept of Information Hygiene practice was introduced as an everyday routine to reduce the risk of acting upon and sharing misinformation to one’s network. To support social media users adopting this routine, the first systematic set of information hygiene guidelines on how to evaluate information on social media was presented1.  

For the rest of the workshop, participants registered to the EUNOMIA platform and tried the individual features. The EUNOMIA platform built on private Mastodon instances nudges users to critically engage with posts inviting them to vote on their trustworthiness. The platform also provides indicators to support them in this decision-making process. Indicators include information about the account, the sentiment of a post, and whether it appears as subjective or objective. Furthermore, the provenance of similar information is visualized. This information cascade enables EUNOMIA users to understand how a piece of information might have been modified or re-contextualized by being posted by different users.  

Participants provided positive feedback overall and made specific suggestions that can be employed in the exploitation stages of the project. EUNOMIA has employed a co-design approach over the course of the project. Working with end-users and experts through interactive activities and workshops, like the one described above, defined the development of the EUNOMIA platform. 

Read the current topics on Blasting News, discuss on EUNOMIA

July 22nd, 2021 by

EUNOMIA provides a dedicated instance powered by Mastodon to enhance the user experience of Blasting News readers. The trial EUNOMIA environment is built on the so-called Vertical Channels which are online communities of engaged users around specific topics. Currently, Blasting News readers can discuss EUNOMIA articles featuring in Covid-19 pandemic and Tokyo 2020 Olympics channels.

Blasting News channels on EUNOMIA instance

Vertical Channels are supported by a unique technology developed at Blasting News that thematically aggregates editorially curated news. In this way, readers can stay informed around the topics of their interest without endless scrolling. Thanks to EUNOMIA, Blasting News dedicated channels now feature a button that links directly to a discussion environment, powered by Mastodon.

Blasting News readers can comment, share and endorse posts as they would do on any social media network. Yet, EUNOMIA environment provides its users the opportunity to rate the reliability of the information provided in an article actively participating on the content assessment. In this context, EUNOMIA readers prioritise trusts over likes having a say on what is communicated on online environments. Furthermore, EUNOMIA supports this trustworthiness assessment with dedicated tools such as the history of a post in the EUNOMIA environment, how certain characteristics have changed over time, the account age and the connections indicating potential trolls.

Furthermore, you can have the EUNOMIA app on your phone so you don’t miss the ongoing discussions. EUNOMIA DC is available on google play and App store.

Apart from the technical value of the trial for the development of the EUNOMIA solution, there are three main kinds of value that this approach is likely to generate: business value for Blasting News as an online publisher, business value for the publishing industry, societal value for the user community.

Let’s examine them in turn.

Business value for Blasting News as an online publisher

Blasting News places its utmost focus on the trustworthiness of its content. It has already been deemed a reliable and trustworthy source by NewsGuard, the international organization established to restore trust and accountability in the news industry. Now, it further expands on its success story of its original and innovative civic journalism concept, which promotes freedom of thought and self-expression of non-professional authors, by introducing a ground-breaking comments facility for its thematic groups’ discussion sections.

EUNOMIA environment provides a comments section to Blasting News readers that allows:

  • Rich and dynamic interaction with other readers in a familiar social media style that breaks away from the typical static comments section
  • Extended functionality supporting users themselves to evaluate the trustworthiness of posts, third-party content and comments

Business value for the publishing industry

Many digital publishers, such as online newspapers and magazines, are in a tenuous relationship with the leading social media providers that nowadays serve as primary marketing tools. In exchange for getting access to audiences, these organizations allow social media to use their content to attract more users and advertisers. However, traditional media companies cannot control who, at what rate, and in what way will display ads alongside their content. They cannot impose rules and stopping mechanisms to advertising that might affect the credibility of their content.

EUNOMIA “nudges” readers to become lifetime and engaged members of a permanent, decentralized and privacy respectful supporting community.

The combined use of EUNOMIA with Mastodon offers digital publishers a true ownership of their social media experience. They can decide how their social media platform is used and how the aggregated use of its content can be monetized. Furthermore, the code is open source and free, guaranteeing control over the platform infrastructure.

Societal value creation

EUNOMIA enhances the potential of co-regulating the quality of digital content encouraging its users to assess themselves content trustworthiness. EUNOMIA supports users in this process providing dedicated tools enabling them for example to look into the provenance of online content, recognise the tone of language among other characteristics.

Overall, this is an excellent example of micro co-regulation, as is the use of blockchain technology in establishing the integrity of the data sharing. Unlike the current regulatory scenario applied to centralised social media such as Twitter or Facebook – who have to choose between absolute inclusivity or taking on the role of publishers and editors – future EUNOMIA-powered social media players can remain neutral platforms allowing their users to take ownership of their content and its trustworthiness.

Workshop on Opinions, Intentions, Freedom of Expression,…, And Other Human Aspects Of Misinformation Online at CHI 2021

June 22nd, 2021 by

EUNOMIA joining forces with the EU funded project Co-inform organised an online workshop exploring the human factors of online misinformation. The workshop was hosted at CHI 2021, one of the most prestigious conferences in computer science, which happened online in early May.

The workshop called  “Opinions, Intentions, Freedom of Expression,…, And Other Human Aspects Of Misinformation Online” emerged from a previous collaboration with Co-Inform. The workshop was a success, attracting researchers from across disciplines and geographical locations (i.e. Canada, the US, Belgium, Germany, Brazil, Austria, Italy, and the UK). Furthermore, at the workshop, a representative of WHO was present. This was another success factor for the workshop given that WHO is a key organisation in the fight against the current infodemic.

The workshop followed an engaging and interactive format splitting the presentations of the 9 accepted research statements and the discussions into 3 clusters; 1. Community and Values; 2. Policies and Regulations; and 3. Tools and Technical Solutions.

Misinformation was analysed from a multi-layer perspective exploring and discussing different aspects of this phenomenon, including our beliefs and the role of emotions in human reasoning of online content, as well as the role of trust. Furthermore, technical characteristics of fact-checking such as accessibility and data harmonisation were discussed. Finally, accountability on social media and regulations of social media platforms were also brought into the debate. 

“In an engaging atmosphere, the discussions led to new insights for creating more ethical and impacting technical solutions, which will soon be published by the organisers and participants” as eloquently concluded Dr Lara Schibelsky Godoy Piccolo, Researcher at The Open University and co-organiser of the workshop.

Featured Photo by Joshua Sortino on Unsplash

EUNOMIA’s blockchain engine acts as a trust machine

April 14th, 2021 by

Data integrity is a term that refers to the reliability and assurance (validity) of data. One of the main challenges of social media is how to create assurances of data validity, at the same time safeguarding that the data have not been tampered.

In EUNOMIA, all posts are annotated with a “magic” icon (see the image below). When this special icon appears on a post, it means that its blockchain technology guarantees that the integrity of the data e.g., number of trusts, the number of followers and other information related to the post have not been tampered by any administrator or cyber attacker. However, it does not validate whether the post is trustworthy or not. This is for you to decide!

But why is data integrity so important? In cyberspace, online data are likely to be exposed to data manipulations by malicious actors that could use this to their advantage. Especially in social media such actors are distributing compromised pieces of data to their advantage, either to make others act on such data by spreading misinformation (e.g., propagate rumors) or by leveraging on the credibility of other people to claim authorship on certain pieces of digital work (either in plain text or in some visual form).

From the other hand, the actual content creators of such digital artifacts would like to guarantee data integrity towards their online communities (i.e., consumers) of such data. Lastly, and most importantly, they would like to be ensured that there are safeguards in place preventing such manipulation events from happening by other online users.

But how can one certify and prove that the data being presented are free from any data manipulation? EUNOMIA is using a trust engine which builds on a blockchain backbone to provide integrity assurance of the information stored. In addition, the blockchain layer of EUNOMIA creates audit trails of the information to log all the state changes or revisions made to the data.

But isn’t this the same as logging data in some database? Audit trails stored in the same way as the application data are equally vulnerable to tampering and manipulation attacks. There is no mechanism to make hard assertions about data integrity or validate the integrity of such data. In EUNOMIA, we are using a blockchain backbone to make such assertions that can validate the integrity of arbitrary data, and provide for traceability.

But how is this ensured? Blockchain technology builds on a peer-to-peer network where clients (aka nodes) maintain replicas of a distributed data structure (i.e., the blockchain). This data structure organizes pieces of information in the so-called blocks that are linked together with the use of a cryptographic hash function. In brief, the cryptographic hash function is used to create hashes of the information from each block that are linked with each other; since the hash of a block encapsulates the hash of the previous block as a pointer, thus forming a reversed linked list (aka the chain).

This unique characteristic of this data structure is critical for ensuring data integrity. If an attacker attempts to change any piece of information within a past block then the hash of the block changes, resulting in an unresolved pointer breaking the chain. This unreferenced block will not be accepted by the rest of the network.

In addition to cryptographic hashes that build a unique data structure, a blockchain network employs a safeguard mechanism (so-called consensus) that allows independent nodes to, coordinate, approve, and agree on which data should be appended on the data structure. Since the consensus algorithm operates under a distributed environment this ensures that there is no single point of failure, and no central control of the information that could be compromised.

EUNOMIA’s blockchain backbone leverages on the unique characteristics of: blockchain-based hash validation, and consensus offered by the technology to safeguard data attestations and guarantee the integrity of the data.

Insights and outcomes from the first EUNOMIA pilots

March 29th, 2021 by

The first phase of the EUNOMIA pilots included two pilots conducted between September 2020 to January 2021 and provided useful feedback on the functionality and usability of the EUNOMIA tools, which was used to feed into the further development of EUNOMIA.

The first pilot focused on the technical aspects of the EUNOMIA platform and involved Decentralized Chapters, a community of blockchain and cryptocurrency enthusiasts. While users were invited to join the instance from September 2020 on, the main phase of the pilot took place between the 5-14 October 2020 in the form of a competition in which users were asked to identify trustworthy and untrustworthy information and the earliest source of information. Participants were introduced to four EUNOMIA functionalities to assist them in determining the veracity of online content. The trust/don’t trust votes (1) allow users to vote on the trustworthiness of information in a binary and anonymous way. The information cascade (2) and nudge (3) functionalities are used to point the user to posts that are identified as similar. Other indicators (4) such as account age, connections and posts allow the user to judge whether the account is likely to be a bot.

EUNOMIA partners posted various posts, some of which were true and some were deliberately false for users to test and engage with the EUNOMIA tools to identify whether the posts contained misinformation. After the end of the competition, participants feedback was collected using online questionnaires, semi-structured interviews and automated logging, to gather participants’ perceptions of their experience of using the platform.

A second pilot was carried out in January 2021 and sought to understand the potential commercial adoption of EUNOMIA by online media organisations. This pilot was run on EUNOMIA’s partner Blasting News, a global publisher that aims to offer independent and accurate journalism. For the pilot, EUNOMIA was applied as a social media plugin into Blasting New’s own environment. A semi-structured interview was carried out with the Chief Operating Officer of Blasting News to assess the usefulness and business benefits of EUNOMIA.

Overall, participants agreed that EUNOMIA is useful and has the potential to help in the fight against misinformation. The trust/don’t trust voting in particular was seen as useful, easy and intuitive. The indicators and information cascade are seen as helpful tools, but they bear the risk of information overload and addressing expert users only. Participants also pointed out the potential of EUNOMIA for behavioura

The first phase of the EUNOMIA pilots included two pilots conducted between September 2020 to January 2021 and provided useful feedback on the functionality and usability of the EUNOMIA tools, which was used to feed into the further development of EUNOMIA.

The first pilot focused on the technical aspects of the EUNOMIA platform and involved Decentralized Chapters, a community of blockchain and cryptocurrency enthusiasts. While users were invited to join the instance from September 2020 on, the main phase of the pilot took place between the 5-14 October 2020 in the form of a competition in which users were asked to identify trustworthy and untrustworthy information and the earliest source of information. Participants were introduced to four EUNOMIA functionalities to assist them in determining the veracity of online content. The trust/don’t trust votes (1) allow users to vote on the trustworthiness of information in a binary and anonymous way. The information cascade (2) and nudge (3) functionalities are used to point the user to posts that are identified as similar. Other indicators (4) such as account age, connections and posts allow the user to judge whether the account is likely to be a bot.

EUNOMIA partners posted various posts, some of which were true and some were deliberately false for users to test and engage with the EUNOMIA tools to identify whether the posts contained misinformation. After the end of the competition, participants feedback was collected using online questionnaires, semi-structured interviews and automated logging, to gather participants’ perceptions of their experience of using the platform.

A second pilot was carried out in January 2021 and sought to understand the potential commercial adoption of EUNOMIA by online media organisations. This pilot was run on EUNOMIA’s partner Blasting News, a global publisher that aims to offer independent and accurate journalism. For the pilot, EUNOMIA was applied as a social media plugin into Blasting New’s own environment. A semi-structured interview was carried out with the Chief Operating Officer of Blasting News to assess the usefulness and business benefits of EUNOMIA.

Overall, participants agreed that EUNOMIA is useful and has the potential to help in the fight against misinformation. The trust/don’t trust voting in particular was seen as useful, easy and intuitive. The indicators and information cascade are seen as helpful tools, but they bear the risk of information overload and addressing expert users only. Participants also pointed out the potential of EUNOMIA for behavioural change and to support a learning process. Participants also raised some concerns, in particular regarding the possible misuse of EUNOMIA tools.

In terms of usability, the EUNOMIA buttons were too subtle, especially the nudge icon and information on voting numbers. However, the overall feedback was positive and encouraging, users generally found the tools useful, easy to use, meaningful, and engaging. Based on the participants’ feedback, a list of recommendations for the further development of the EUNOMIA tools were formulated. The recommendations were informed by the PIA+ activities to ensure an ethical and socially sustainable development of EUNOMIA’s tools.

l change and to support a learning process. Participants also raised some concerns, in particular regarding the possible misuse of EUNOMIA tools.

In terms of usability, the EUNOMIA buttons were too subtle, especially the nudge icon and information on voting numbers. However, the overall feedback was positive and encouraging, users generally found the tools useful, easy to use, meaningful, and engaging. Based on the participants’ feedback, a list of recommendations for the further development of the EUNOMIA tools were formulated. The recommendations were informed by the PIA+ activities to ensure an ethical and socially sustainable development of EUNOMIA’s tools.

Exploring political bias in false information spread on social media

February 24th, 2021 by

Social media has become a key source of online news consumption. However, at the same time, social media users are not passive news consumers. They can further distribute online information to their networks and beyond. It is easy then to understand how information that is not always factual or information that promotes hate and violence can be amplified on social media.

This use of social media has an unimaginable impact on the real world as many recent events have shown. One such example is that of the Capitol deadly attack in January 2021, in which social media had a major role to play. Misinformation regarding the transparency of the election process had been spread through social media generating distrust and anger against the newly elected president. Riots are also said to be organised through groups on social media.

It is evident, that social media and misinformation can be harmful and from a political perspective it can threaten democracy. Through our work in the EUNOMIA project, we adopted an interdisciplinary approach to examine political bias in the engagement with false information.

EUNOMIA, a 3-year EU-funded Innovation project, aims to shift the culture in which we use social media focusing on trust, nudging social media users to prioritise critical engagement with online information before they react to it. To this end, it provides a toolkit that supports social media users to assess information trustworthiness. In developing effective solutions, it is necessary to understand the human and societal factors of misinformation.

Our interdisciplinary approach

Within the project, our interdisciplinary team at Trilateral Research leads the work of understanding the social and political considerations in the verification of social media misinformation, and the findings directly feed into further development of the tools. Our approach involved three key stages:

  • Stage 1 – TRI’s social scientists undertook desk-based research to understand the political challenges associated with verifying social media information. This provided insights on how political affinity can influence engagement with misinformation
  • Stage 2 – 19 interviews were conducted with citizens, traditional media journalists, and social media journalists by social scientists. The interviews highlighted how the language used on social media can indicate political bias. Furthermore, information and sources which are politically biased or radicalised are not perceived to be trustworthy.
  • Stage 3 – Building on the findings from stages 1 and 2, Trilateral’s technical team undertook a social network analysis to gain insights on the role of political bias in the engagement with misinformation on social media.

Stage 3 involved the team examining a network of 579 influential Twitter accounts of UK Members of Parliament and a sample of 49 false information accounts. Using UK politics as a case study, enabled the technical team to contribute to the existing heavily US-focused research.

The analysis was conducted using a step-by-step approach.

Within the UK context, the findings suggest that most of the accounts engaging with false information have a Conservative leaning. This can be explained in two ways:

  • False information can be generated and spread mainly by Conservative-leaning accounts, or
  • There is bias in the way fact-checkers label the false information accounts.

The insights emerging from Trilateral’s interdisciplinary approach can be used in the design and development process of relevant tools for tackling misinformation. It also invites fact-checkers and data scientists to explore potential bias when they label accounts as sources of false information. Furthermore, it contributes to media literacy, raising awareness of social media users regarding trustworthiness assessment and further engagement with online information.

The findings encourage social media users to examine the characteristics of accounts that generate and promote content especially with regard to political bias.

Disclaimer: This post was first published on Trilateral Research website

Klitos Christodoulou EUNOMIA’s partner from UNIC in an interview with Blasting News

January 30th, 2021 by

Klitos Christodoulou, assistant professor at the University of Nicosia, in his interview with Blasting Talks illustrates how EUNOMIA plans to repurpose the idea of a social media platform. Klitos presents the differences between the mainstream social media, like Facebook or Twitter, and blockchain-based social media to explain EUNOMIA’s potential in changing the culture of social networks.

Read the full article here

EUNOMIA’s project coordinator Prof. George Loukas on Blasting Talks

January 10th, 2021 by

Prof. George Loukas, EUNOMIA project coordinator and Head of Internet of Things and Security Research Group, featured on Blasting Talks. He talked about EUNOMIA and the project’s approach in tackling misinformation placing the user in the centre of toolkit’s design and development.

Read the full interview here

EUNOMIA at the Industry Forum of GlobeCom 2020

December 22nd, 2020 by

In the era of COVID-19 pandemic, social media have become a dominant, direct and highly effective form of news generation and sharing at a global scale. This information is not always trustworthy as exemplified by the wide spread of misinformation that proved dangerous for public health. Prof. Charalampos Patrikakis from the University of West Attica -partner of EUNOMIA project- co-organised an event focusing on “Fighting Misinformation on Social Networks” at the Industry Forum session of the Global Communications Conference 2020. GlobeCom2020 is one of the IEEE Communications Society’s two flagship conferences dedicated to driving innovation in nearly every aspect of communications.

The event included presentations by academics and industry representatives followed by an open discussion. Prof. Patrikakis delivered a presentation on “EUNOMIA project: a decentralized approach to fighting fake news”. His presentation referred to the concept of EUNOMIA on the adaptation of information hygiene routines for protection against the ‘infodemic’ of rapidly spreading misinformation. Moreover, EUNOMIA presentation included a more extensive graphic description of the project’s toolkit with its four interrelated functional components: The information cascade, Human-as-Trust-Sensor interface, Sentiment and subjectivity analysis and the Trustworthiness scoring. Participants were also invited to register on EUNOMIA in order to see how this works in real-time.