COVID-19: Being alone together: developing fake news immunity

Lead Research Organisation: University of Liverpool
Department Name: Communication and Media

Abstract

This project is framed in the area of "crisis informatics", the study of how (mis)information
about COVID-19 is generated and flows over media platforms. The main goal is that of
reverse-engineering the manipulation of information providing citizens with the means to act
as fact checkers. We believe that fostering global digital activism constitutes a necessary
means to fight the current info-pandemic. The majority of fact-checking and myth-busting
sites (e.g. EUvsDisinfo, https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-
2019/advice-for-public/myth-busters) counter false narratives and news that have already
become viral, unable to prevent their spread. Furthermore, AI techniques
(http://www.fakenewschallenge.org) are currently not accurate enough to replace humans
in generalised fact-checking. This is especially the case when the news does not contain
fabricated information (disinformation), but it is framed in such a way that true evidence is
used to draw false generalizations and evaluations (Wardle 2019), resulting in semi-fake
news.
Leveraging NLP techniques for topic modelling and frame analysis (Das et al. 2010) we will
trace the topics and frames which characterize semi-fake COVID-19 news using FullFact
(https://fullfact.org/) and the Coronavirus debunking archive built by First Draft
(https://firstdraftnews.org/long-form-article/coronavirus-resources-for-reporters/) as
benchmarks. We will identify the fallacious reasonings in the sample and use the results to
compile a set of guidelines about how to detect semi-fake COVID-19 news. These principles
will be operationalised in a digital platform with a chatbot for training citizens to spot
misinformation. Citizens who have been trained will have access to the Fake News Immunity
platform, working together with experts in the common effort of flagging semi-fake news.

Publications

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Palmieri R (2020) Trust-Repair Strategies in Crisis Rhetorical (Sub-)Arenas: An Argumentative Perspective in International Journal of Strategic Communication