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11 January 2021
Special Issue Editor(s)
University of Minnesota-Twin Cities
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Kristiania University College
Fighting Fakes: News publishers, fact-checkers, platform companies, and policymaking
Recent years have seen mounting concern about the political and social consequences of misinformation, including online rumors, political propaganda, and media manipulation. Misinformation refers to false, inaccurate, or misleading information, whether unintentional or produced and distributed for political and financial gain. The latter category is often described as disinformation or “fake news” (Kalsnes, 2018; Tandoc, Lim & Ling, 2018), a label also used by political actors to delegitimize the news media intentionally or unintentionally (Egelhofer and Lecheler, 2019). While misinformation is hardly a new problem, it spreads in new ways and with potentially different effects in a digital media environment where professional news organizations have ceded much of their gatekeeping authority to search engines, social media networks, and other algorithmic mediators (Entman and Usher, 2018).
Observers point to a range of ways in which misinformation may be destructive to the fabric of political society. While research suggests that initial fears about the electoral influence of “fake news” have been exaggerated (Guess et al 2020), we contend that not enough is known about the role of different forms of misinformation in eroding public trust in the media, politicians, experts, and public institutions.
Observers also point to the degradation of the quality of political debate, integrity of electoral processes, and intensified political and ideological polarization (European Commission, 2018). Research also shows that misinformation continues to shape individual and collective attitudes after it has been debunked (Thorson, 2016), that corrections have a positive but limited effect in dispelling false beliefs tied to our political and social identities (Walter et al 2019), and that even successful factual corrections may not alter political or policy preferences (Nyhan at al 2019; Porter et al 2019). In the midst of all this, it is important to further investigate how news publishers, fact-checkers, platform companies, and policymaking respond to misinformation.
The viral spread of misinformation in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic has accentuated these concerns. COVID-19 has also sparked a convergence of misinformation relating to both health communication and political communication that is deeply worrying and challenging (Napoli, 2020). The World Health Organization has described this global pandemic as an ‘infodemic’, meaning an overabundance of information, some accurate and some not, that makes it difficult for people to find trustworthy sources and reliable guidance. The need to distinguish fact-based information from rumours and conspiracy theories can be a question of life and death during such a crisis. Platform companies such as Facebook have increased their efforts to identify and curate potentially misinformation related to the virus. The role of platform companies in mediating information flows raises a host of questions about how to identify and classify harmful misinformation, how to monitor its sources and circulation, and how to assign responsibility for it.
In recent years, the news industry, fact-checking organizations, and civil society have also increasingly responded to misinformation generally with new practices such as fact-checking. Journalism as an institution aspires to produce truthful news with verified information from trusted sources. Fact-checking organizations and platform companies continuously work towards identifying, debunking, and reducing the visibility of misinformation. In doing so, they have emphasized national and international collaborations designed to fight misinformation with each other, governments, and platforms companies (Graves 2018).
With a focus on institutions, this special issue seeks to gain a deeper understanding into how journalists, news publishers, platform companies, fact-checking organizations, and governments approach and deal with misinformation across all corners of the globe. Possible topics to be addressed include but are not limited to questions of production and management of various forms of misinformation:
Prevalent misinformation and efforts to debunk misinformation including by news media, startups, fact-checking initiatives, and platform companies
Processes and standards of content moderation by diverse platform companies
Audiences’ perceptions and trust in fact-checks
Developments of audio-visual and processes for detection and analysis of images (rather than audience studies focusing on reception or detection)
Prevalent misinformation related to Covid-19 and efforts to debunk them
Journalistic industry actors’ perceptions and sensemaking about norms, ethical standards, and concrete practices
Role of digital technology, including automation and artificial intelligence, in combating misinformation
Public policy associated with misinformation
Fact checking practices in the Global South especially from Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America
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Proposals should include the following: an abstract of 500-750 words (not including references) as well as background information on the author(s), including an abbreviated bio that describes previous and current research that relates to the special issue theme. Please submit your proposal as one file (PDF) with your names clearly stated in the file name and the first page. Use the special issue title as a header in the email. Send your proposal to Valerie Belair-Gagnon to [email protected] by September 1, 2020, as stated in the timeline below. Authors of accepted proposals are expected to develop and submit their original article, for full blind review, in accordance with the journal’s peer-review procedure, by the deadline stated. Articles should be between 7000 and 9000 words in length and follow standard journal guidelines.
Abstract submission deadline: September 1, 2020
Notification on submitted abstracts: September 18, 2020
Article submission deadline: January 11, 2021
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