The Online Information Environment

How are digital technologies changing the way people interact with information?  What technologies are there that can fabricate and detect misinformation?  And what role does technology have to play in creating a better information environment?

The online information environment (PDF) report addresses these questions, providing an overview of how the internet has changed, and continues to change, the way society engages with scientific information, and how it may be affecting people’s decision-making behaviour – from taking up vaccines to responding to evidence on climate change.

It highlights key challenges for creating a healthy online information environment and makes a series of recommendations for policymakers, academics, and online platforms.

How are digital technologies shaping the information people encounter?

Patterns of information consumption are changing: individuals increasingly look to the online environment for news, and search engines and social media platforms play an increasingly important role in shaping access to information and participation in public debates.

New technologies and uses of data are shaping this online information environment, whether through micro-targeting, filter bubbles, or sophisticated synthetic text, videos and images.

These technologies have great potential and are already being deployed in a range of contexts from entertainment through to education.  At the same time, there are increasing concerns about new forms of online harm and erosion of trust that these could enable.

While misinformation isn’t a new problem—and uncertainty and debate are intrinsic parts of science–the internet has drastically magnified the speed and scale at which poor quality information can spread.

The report highlights how online misinformation on scientific issues, like climate change or vaccine safety, can harm individuals and society.   It stresses that censoring or removing inaccurate, misleading and false content, whether it’s shared unwittingly or deliberately, is not a silver bullet and may undermine the scientific process and public trust.

Instead, there needs to be a focus on building resilience against harmful misinformation across the population and the promotion of a “healthy” online information environment.

The edge of error

Professor Frank Kelly FRS, Professor of the Mathematics of Systems at the Statistical Laboratory, University of Cambridge, and Chair of the report said, “Science stands on the edge of error and the nature of the scientific endeavour at the frontiers means there is always uncertainty.

“In the early days of the pandemic, science was too often painted as absolute and somehow not to be trusted when it corrects itself, but that prodding and testing of received wisdom is integral to the advancement of science, and society.

“This is important to bear in mind when we are looking to limit scientific misinformation’s harms to society. Clamping down on claims outside the consensus may seem desirable, but it can hamper the scientific process and force genuinely malicious content underground.”….Read more….

 

By: Gina Neff

Source: The online information environment | Royal Society

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