Why EUNOMIA builds on Mastodon; what is a decentralised social network

July 31st, 2020 by

EUNOMIA is being built on top of Mastodon. Mastodon has some unique qualities that make it a great foundation for research projects and businesses. It is a social network where people can post text messages, images, videos, polls, subscribe to each other to receive those posts in their chronological home feeds, and otherwise interact with each other through replies, favourites, and re-shares of each others’ posts.

But unlike traditional social networks, Mastodon is decentralised. It’s a collection of websites that almost seamlessly integrate with each other. A person who signed up on one of those websites is able to subscribe to and interact with someone who signed up on a totally different website, and there is no one who controls all of them: Each is controlled by a different entity, be it an individual or an organization (let’s call them servers instead of websites from here on). There is no central authority that owns all data or tells people how to use the network or how it should be financed; every participant has full agency over their own participation.

What’s more, Mastodon is free, open-source software. That means that anyone can download its code, inspect it, or modify it to their needs, and more importantly, anyone can run it to create their own place in the network. Because the integration between Mastodon servers is covered by a standard protocol approved by the World Wide Web Consortium, nobody is locked down to always using Mastodon code — anything that implements that same protocol will integrate just as easily. Furthermore, Mastodon puts a lot of weight behind its API (application programming interface). Everything that Mastodon’s default user interface can do, is done through its API, an API fully available to app developers. Developing alternative user interfaces is not only possible, but encouraged.

So, why is Mastodon great for EUNOMIA? A seamless integration of EUNOMIA’s user interface within Mastodon demonstrates these benefits: EUNOMIA has first-class access to a well-documented API that does not lock away any features and will never be paywalled. What’s more, with our own Mastodon server, we have the perfect testing environment of a fully-featured modern social network entirely under our own control.

Understanding the behaviour of social media users

June 29th, 2020 by

Fill in the EUNOMIA survey on social media user behaviour and help us to develop further the EUNOMIA toolkit assisting users in practicing information hygiene.

Social media users adopt different norms of behaviour, spoken and unspoken rules, patterns and forms of communication in different social media platforms. How misinformation spreads via different channels is, at least partially, connected to such platform-internal norms and logics: different types of users ascribe trustworthiness in a different way, they differ in the way they seek and share information.

EUNOMIA is developing a set of tools that aims to support users in assessing the trustworthiness of indicators, offering them a variety of indicators. To understand (norms of) user behaviour is crucial: EUNOMIA follows a co-design approach that puts the user in the centre. Therefore, we are inviting every social media user, as well as traditional media journalists and social journalists, i.e. professional and citizen journalists that carry out journalism on online media, to fill out our survey and support this relevant task.

It will only take 15 minutes of your time!

Link to the survey: https://www.surveyly.com/p/index.php/687178?lang=en

A data science approach to social science problems: examining political bias in false information on social media

June 12th, 2020 by

The 2016 United States (U.S) presidential election highlighted the powerful influence that social media can have on politics. Fake news stories shared on social media are argued to have swayed the outcome of the last U.S. election and a recent article in the Guardian questioned: “Will fake news wreck the coming [UK] general election?”

With the Conservatives recently spending approximately £100,000 and the Brexit party spending £107,000 on Facebook advertising in the UK, it is becoming increasingly important to understand how false information on social media is politically biased.

As part of their role in the EU funded EUNOMIA (user-oriented, secure, trustful & decentralised social media) project, Trilateral’s research team sought to address this question.

EUNOMIA is a three-year (2018-2021) project that brings together 10 partners who will develop a decentralised, open-source solution to assist social media users (traditional media journalists, social journalists and citizen users) in determining the trustworthiness of information.

An interdisciplinary approach

Trilateral leads the work in EUNOMIA to understand the social and political considerations in the verification of social media information. The research team’s interdisciplinary approach drew on the expertise of social scientists from the Applied Research & Innovation team and data scientists from the technical team.

The social science research comprised of desk-based research and 19 semi-structured interviews with citizen social media users, traditional media journalists, social journalists and other relevant stakeholders.

Participant observation has been undertaken through a data science approach designed to examine political bias in relation to the engagement with false information. To do this the study focused on the political leanings of false information accounts in relation to UK political parties. The data science methodology included:

  • Web scraping to identify the Twitter handles of the 579 UK MPs and 49 false information organisations which included organisations labelled as “conspiracy-pseudoscience” or “questionable” sources on the Mediabiasfactcheck.com database and climate change denial organisations listed on the DeSmog Climate Disinformation Research Database
  • Data mining on Twitter, processing and utilising big data exclusively using the publicly available Twitter APIs
  • Social network analysis to track the following between the examined accounts and extract insights to measure political bias
EUNOMIA fake news

To examine political bias in relation to false information, the technical team analysed three metrics, including:

  1. The intersection of the followers of each false information account and the followers of the Conservative and Labour MPs
  2. A social network graph highlighting the political bias of the followers of each false information account
  3. Whether false information accounts follow more Conservative or Labour MPs

The findings of all three metrics examined indicate that the majority of false information accounts in this study are Conservative-leaning.

Whilst these findings may be the result of the calls by Conservative-leaning politicians to distrust mainstream media or in how accounts are labelled as false information by fact-checkers, the presence of political bias in social media content can result in it being distrusted.

The interview findings highlighted how information and sources that are politically biased or radicalised are not perceived to be trustworthy. As interviewees highlighted how the language used can provide insights into political bias, our further research will draw on natural language processing techniques to explore the language used when engaging with false information accounts.

The findings of this study have been submitted for publication as a journal article.

Disclaimer: This post first published on Trilateral Research website

Addressing fake news and disinformation on social media

March 31st, 2020 by

Fake news have the power to build a misleading representation of reality posing a threat to our security and safety and forcing us to consider how we can build trust in information.

The ability for users to generate, share and engage with social media content means that there is a vast amount of information on social media. While users regularly access social media for the latest news and information, this information cannot always be trusted.

For example, the 2011 riots in the UK saw the use of social media for disinformation, the deliberate spread of false rumours about topics such as looting. It was during the 2016 US elections that the concept of “fake news” became mainstream, referring to unverified news stories and deliberate disinformation. This issue is only likely to increase with the emergence of “deep fake videos” that can be easily created by combining different videos and images and then shared on social media, examples include the use of machine learning techniques to develop lip-syncing videos of Barack Obama giving a speech by George W. Bush. Beyond research, in some more serious cases, the spread of disinformation can have the potential for life and death consequences when inaccurate information is spread in relation to issues such as disaster response or healthcare.

For example, when Hurricane Sandy swept across parts of the USA and the Caribbean, numerous people and organisations took to the web to search for and share information. As is commonly the case, some of this information was grossly untrue. Fake news was not limited to written content but images too, including sharks in flood waters and lady Liberty under attack from killer waves.

EUNOMIA project addresses these challenges associated with fake news and disinformation.

What is the EUNOMIA project?

EUNOMIA (user-oriented, secure, trustful & decentralised social media) is a European Union funded project that will assist users in determining the trustworthiness of social media information using an intermediary-free open-source approach. EUNOMIA will address the following questions focusing predominantly on decentralised social media:

– Which social media user is the original source of a piece of information?

– How has this information spread and been modified in an information cascade?

– How likely is the information to be trustworthy?

The 10 consortium partners will provide social media users with a technical platform and software tools that will enable them to vote on the trustworthiness of each social media post. Thus, EUNOMIA addresses the challenge of disinformation in social media by enabling users themselves to take ownership of their engagement with social media.

Identifying fake news on social media

What role does Trilateral play in EUNOMIA?

Trilateral adopts a cross-cutting and interdisciplinary approach to their work in the EUNOMIA project focusing on:

  • Primary applied social science research: Trilateral leads EUNOMIA’s work on human and societal factors. We will draw on our expertise in co-design and primary research (i.e., interviews, workshops) to engage with stakeholders to understand the social and political factors involved in the verification of information on social media
  • Technology and data science: Building on our applied social science research, our interdisciplinary team will apply network analysis, natural language processing, and machine learning to gain insights from data extracted via social media APIs (e.g., Twitter, Mastodon) on the social (e.g., age, gender, nationality) and political factors involved in the verification of information
  • Privacy Impact Assessment+: Trilateral is working in partnership with the technical developers and end-users to conduct a privacy, social and ethical impact assessment (PIA+) of the EUNOMIA tools to ensure that the project takes a privacy and data protection-by-design approach
  • Co-design and Stakeholder engagement: Trilateral leads the ongoing liaison and engagement with relevant stakeholders that will benefit from the outputs of the EUNOMIA solution ensuring co-design approaches are integrated across the project

Trilateral will undertake this work in collaboration with the other partners, including the University of Greenwich, SIVECO, Blasting News, Inov Insec Inovação, University of West Attica, University of Nicosia, Österreichischer Rundfunk (ORF), Eugen Rochko (Mastodon Social), and SYNYO GmbH. Representatives from all partners were brought together for the EUNOMIA kick-off meeting that took place in Greenwich (UK) in January 2019. The kick-off meeting provided the perfect opportunity for the partners to plan the work for the next three years.

EUNOMIA consortium at kick off meeting

Partners at the EUNOMIA kick-off meeting, Greenwich (UK)

Disclaimer: This post first published on Trilateral Research website

Workshop: Fighting fake news. Ways to enhance accountability, reliability and accuracy of Social Media information

March 31st, 2020 by

Workshop: Fighting fake news. Ways to enhance accountability, reliability and accuracy of Social Media information

Call for Papers

During the last decade, there has been a revolution in how people interconnect and socialize. From the early days of Facebook to today’s proliferation of Social Media of all types, people have been embracing this new form of socialization. Social networks, media and platforms are becoming the primary way in how our societies operate for the purposes of communication, information exchange, conducting business, co-creation, and learning. However, their extreme growth in combination with the lack of control over the digital content being published and shared, has led to their information veracity being heavily disputed.

As blatant fake news cases are becoming countless, motives for their spreading are often financial or political. In a recent letter, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, specifically points out the alarming situation where most people today find news and information on the web through just a handful of social media sites and search engines. These sites use fake news as a tool to artificially grow their traffic, in order to take advantage of increased advertising revenues. They choose what to show based on algorithms that learn from our personal data, which they are constantly harvesting. The net result is that these sites show content they think we will click on –meaning that misinformation or fake news which is surprising, shocking, or designed to appeal to our biases, spread quickly. In the Freedom of the Net 2017 report, Freedom House is led to the same conclusion. The report studied 65 countries worldwide between June 2016 and May 2017 and found out that online manipulation and disinformation tactics played an important role in elections in at least 18 out of 65 countries during this period, including the United States.

Establishing synergies with innovative information and communication technologies (such as semantic analysis tools, blockchains, emotional descriptors, machine learning) can enhance the accountability, reliability and accuracy of the information being shared in Social Media, leading to a more veritable sociality. Key to this situation is to safeguard the distributed and open nature of Social Media, strengthening pluralism and participation, and mitigating censorship. At the same time, what is and what is not fake news is rarely straightforward. Users cannot leave such decisions to third parties like fact checkers or computer algorithms. A more mature approach to evaluating themselves and sharing information they read online can dramatically halt the main advantage of fake news, which is their speed of spreading.

In the context of the above, this workshop invites papers in the areas of:

  • innovative ICT technologies to fight against spreading of fake news
  • digital content verification
  • distributed trust and reputation establishment in decentralized environments
  • the role of machine learning both in causing and in tackling disinformation online
  • blockchain technologies to support accountability and transparency
  • human factors in social media disinformation
  • involvement of media specialists and user communities in the content verification process
  • ethics in social media disinformation
  • information veracity in the web and social media ecosystems

The workshop is co-organized by the H2020 EUNOMIA project and the H2020 SocialTruth project.

Workshop organizers:

Dr. Konstantinos Demestichas, ICCS/NTUA, Athens, Greece, email: cdemest@cn.ntua.gr

Prof. George Loukas, University of Greenwich, UK, email: g.loukas@gre.ac.uk  

Prof. Charalampos Z. Patrikakis, University of West Attica, email: bpatr@uniwa.gr

Dr. Evgenia Adamopoulou, Hellenic Open University, Patras, Greece, email: evgenia.adamopoulou@ac.eap.gr

Important Dates

Full paper submission deadline: 18 August 2019

Notification of decision: 14 September 2019

Camera-ready deadline: 22 September 2019

Instructions for Authors

Submitted papers must not substantially overlap with papers that have been published or that have been submitted to a journal or a conference with proceedings. Papers should be at most 15 pages long, including the bibliography and well-marked appendices, and should follow the LNCS style (https://www.springer.com/gp/computer-science/lncs/conference-proceedings-guidelines). Submissions are to be made to the submission web site at https://easychair.org/conferences/?conf=edemocracy2019. Only pdf files will be accepted. Submissions not meeting these guidelines risk to be rejected without consideration of their merits. The deadline for submitting papers is 18 August 2019 (11:59 p.m. American Samoa time).

The authors of accepted papers must guarantee that their papers will be presented at the conference.