Eye-witness videos of a terrorist attack – stop and think before you share!

November 10th, 2020 by

At 20.00 on Monday, 2 November 2020, a terrorist attack took place in Vienna, Austria.[1] Four civilians and the attacker were killed, more than 20 people including a police officer were injured. Like with any other terrorist attack in the past years, the event was accompanied by a plethora of speculations, rumours, misinformation as well as real eye-witness videos posted on social media, especially during and in the immediate aftermaths of the attack. Social media play an increasing role in such events; while sharing information and videos can unite people in a shared feeling of experience throughout such events, the distribution of this kind of information is problematic for several reasons.

First and foremost, sharing videos of attacks gives terrorists a stage assisting them to fulfil their goals: terrorists need publicity to scare people and destabilise societies. Surely, it is important to provide information about such events, to warn the population of the attack. However, it is also crucial to avoid giving terrorists the chance to divide societies, to create the hatred they intend to create. Furthermore, eye-witness videos may cause psychological distress and reach audiences such as minors and youths. In addition, it may jeopardise the police investigation and put police officers at risk. During the attack in Vienna, police repeatedly asked to submit videos to a dedicated (closed) channel and avoid sharing any rumours and videos on social media. However, rumours did spread indeed, misinforming the population about kidnappings, other cities being attacked, the number of victims and attackers, the reasons and motivations behind the attack, and… the list goes on.

Cases like this prove the importance of following information hygiene guidelines. Specifically, the recommendation to ‘stop and think before you share’ goes beyond sharing misinformation. It targets the responsibility each and every member of a society. Especially during breaking events, it is crucial to be careful what information to share: mainstream media may be misinformed, and anonymous or other, non-trustworthy sources may deliberately or by accident share rumours. Even in the case of factual information, it still might be better to refrain from sharing disturbing videos – due to the abovementioned reasons. This does not mean we should stop talking about such events, and it certainly does not mean any kind of censorship. But it means to think about the consequences of what we say and share on media with such a broad audience.

As such, social media users need to be trained to stop and think about the consequences and implications of a post before they share it, or refrain from sharing: when in doubt, don’t share. EUNOMIA provides a set of tools that support this process, providing indicators and information on the provenance of information.


[1] see e.g. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/nov/03/vienna-shooting-what-we-know-so-far-about-the-attack

EUNOMIA project in the CoU “Human and societal aspects of the pandemic and beyond: domestic violence, child sexual abuse, infodemic” conference

October 9th, 2020 by

EUNOMIA was invited to participate in the “infodemic” session during the virtual conference “Human and societal aspects of the pandemic and beyond: domestic violence, child sexual abuse, infodemic”, organized by the Community of Users on Secure, Safe and Resilient Societies (CoU). The online event was held online in September, 2020.

EUNOMIA partners Diotima Bertel from SYNYO and Pinelopi Troullinou from Trilateral Research presented EUNOMIA project and specifically the Information Hygiene guides. They illustrated how our toolkit supports social media users to adopt such a routine protecting themselves and their networks against the “infection” of misinformation.

Practicing information hygiene routine to flatten the curve of the ‘infodemic’ – EUNOMIA project’s recommendations

August 31st, 2020 by

The Covid-19 outbreak has raised afresh the debate about the dangers of misinformation on social media. During the time of the pandemic, myths about coronavirus cures and treatments, its origins and the reasons behind it were widely spread on social network platforms leading in cases to dangerous and even fatal actions such as bleach consumption. To this end, António Guterres, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, urged for the need to address the ‘infodemic’ of misinformation.

Gaps in information hygiene guidelines

Framing misinformation within such a context places social media users in the centre of this multi-layered social phenomenon and demands a new appropriate approach to address it. To this end, social media users need to adopt what we call ‘information hygiene routines’ to protect themselves and their network against the ‘infodemic’ of rapidly spreading misinformation. We define Information hygiene routine as the practice of evaluating online information so to minimise the risk of consuming and spreading misinformation to one’s network. This practice significantly differs to fact checkers and fake news detection focusing on actively detecting and identifying ‘pathogens’ rather than on daily routine aiming to avoid “infection”.

Information hygiene guidelines such as “check the source of information”, “check whether the account is a bot”, and “flag untrustworthy information for the benefit of others” are regularly recommended by fact checkers, journalists and media literacy experts to help limit the spread of misinformation. No doubt such recommendations are very important but they are often too time-consuming or too difficult and complicated for the users to adopt as part of their everyday routine.

Illusory Truth Effect

European H2020 funded project EUNOMIA addresses this gap by developing tools to assist social media users in practicing information hygiene routines so to flatten the curve of ‘infodemic’. EUNOMIA toolkit cultivates media literacy skills empowering social media users to evaluate themselves the trustworthiness of online information. While trustworthiness is related to truthfulness, these concepts differ significantly. People do not always seek to verify whether online information is true or not. In some cases, the verification process can be very complex and difficult. Trustworthiness in this sense can be considered more important when consuming and spreading information. In fact, a person is inclined to perceive information as trustworthy and credible just because they are very familiar with it. This is what is called “illusory truth effect” in social psychology. Trustworthiness then is a subjective quality and, therefore, is in the eyes of the beholder. To this end, tools supporting the individual evaluation of trustworthiness are key to slow down the spread of misinformation and minimise its risks.

EUNOMIA project’s approach

EUNOMIA is adopting a positive-first approach to the information trustworthiness challenge in social media which empowers users to critically assess the information they consume and protect their network against misinformation spread. EUNOMIA provides a toolkit in the form of a social media companion that can currently be implemented in decentralised and open access social media platforms such as Mastodon and Diaspora*. The social media companion offers multiple trustworthiness indicators for users to select and display their preferred ones to support their assessment. This may include indicators of bot activity, such as the ratio of followers to following, and other indicators co-developed with social media users themselves or identified in the scientific literature such as the objectivity of a post. EUNOMIA also visualises the modifications of online information in between different users’ posts in an information cascade. This means that EUNOMIA users can see how a piece of information might have changed when shared or re-shared by different users and/or in different periods of time. So, the user can see all the different versions of the same piece of information and the ‘journey’ of potential modification conducted.

EUNOMIA encourages the active and collective participation of social media users to stop the spread of misinformation. Adopting user contribution guidelines, such as the recommendation to ‘flag untrustworthy information for the benefit of others’, EUNOMIA enables users to vote on content trustworthiness and act as trust-reference in their network. The number of votes constitutes one of the several trustworthiness indicators that might be used by other users to evaluate the information trustworthiness.

EUNOMIA project’s recommendations

EUNOMIA has developed the first systematic set of information hygiene recommendations that fall in four categories:

a) source of information

b) content

c) language

d) action to mitigate risk.

This set emerged from thorough desk-based research leading in identification and analysis of a large number of guidelines available online. These guidelines were then evaluated based on their practicality and evidence of their effectiveness. The identification and evaluation of the guidelines was conducted by an interdisciplinary team of EUNOMIA researchers assessing their practicality in terms of expertise and time required by the users to adopt. Similarly, the effectiveness of the guidelines was based on scientific evidence. The set of recommendations resulted – such as “Check whether the author is anonymous”, “check whether the language is used to make you emotional”- will be tested with end-users and inform the further development of EUNOMIA toolkit.

Disclaimer: This post was first published on Trilateral Research website

Eat, Sleep, Trust, Repeat or The Illusory Truth Effect

June 23rd, 2020 by

Have you ever noticed how a vaguely familiar statement, something you remember hearing, makes you think “there has to be something to it” or “this has to be true, I have heard it before”? This is what social psychology calls the “illusory truth effect”, which means that a person attributes higher credibility and trustworthiness to information to which they have been exposed before. In a nutshell, repetition makes information more credible and trustworthy. Frequency, it seems, serves as a “criterion of certitude”.

What is really interesting about this is that this effect has not only been tested for plausible information but even for statements initially identified as false. And the effect is immediate: already reading a false statement once is enough to increase later perceptions of its accuracy. An experiment carried out by researchers in the US showed the truth effect even for highly implausible, entirely fabricated news stories. The researchers further were able to show that the effect holds true even if participants forgot having seen the information previously. Even if participants disagree with information, repetition made it more plausible.

But why does this effect exist? Research gives us several answers to this. First, familiarity with the information leads to faster processing of that information. Second, recognition of information, and coherency of statements with previous information in a person’s memory, affect our judgement. Third, there is a learned effect that faster processing of information and truthfulness of information can be positively correlated.

When it comes to misinformation and fake news, the importance of this effect cannot be stressed enough. Even warnings by fact-checkers or experts cannot counter it; the only way of protecting yourself and others from misinformation is to avoid sharing any piece of dubious information. So, one of the most important rules we identified as part of our guidelines for information hygiene is simply if in doubt, don’t share.

References

Bacon, F. (1979). Credibility of repeated statements: Memory for trivia. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Learning and Memory, 5(3), 241–252.

Hasher, L., Goldstein, D., & Toppino, T. (1977). Frequency and the conference of referential validity. Journal of verbal learning and verbal behavior, 16(1), 107-112.

Pennycook, G., & Rand, D. (2018). Who falls for fake news? The roles of bullshit receptivity, overclaiming, familiarity, and analytic thinking. Journal of personality.

Pennycook, G., Cannon, T. D., & Rand, D. G. (2018). Prior exposure increases perceived accuracy of fake news. Journal of experimental psychology: general., 147(12), 1865–1880. doi:https://doi.org/10.1037/xge0000465

Unkelbach, C. (2007). Reversing the Truth Effect: Learning the Interpretation of Processing Fluency in Judgments of Truth. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 33(1), 2019-230.

Unkelbach, C., Koch, A., Silva, R. R., & Garcia-Marques, T. (2019). Truth by Repetition: Explanations and Implications. urrent Directions in Psychological Science, 28(3), 247-253.