Thursday, June 29, 2017

the relationship between post-truth politics and Scottish citizens’ information behaviour #i3rgu

My final liveblog post from the i3 conference at RGU in Aberdeen (Sadly I'm missing tomorrow's sessions as I have to make an emergency trip to the dentist!) is a paper from Dr Graeme Baxter (presenter) and Professor Rita Marcella: An exploration of the relationship between post-truth politics and Scottish citizens’ information behaviour.
Baxter started by exploring the meaning of "post truth", with it first being attributed to Tesich in 1992, but with a recent huge growth in the use of the term.
In the Scottish Independence Referendum (indyref, which took place in 2014) there were accusations of manipulating the facts from both sides. At the time of the indyref, the researchers undertook a study (in a community centre, church and two other venues in Aberdeen) where 54 people were shown various political websites and asked for their views. Respondents were sceptical about the information which was being presented as "facts". The respondents wanted more sources cited, so they could see where the information came from, 37% described the information they'd seen a very or quite reliable. The researchers developed a matrix - one axis was confidence in ability to judge reliability of information, and the other the participant's awareness that information may be unreliable. Participants would be in one of the four quadrants. Additionally, the researchers developed an emerging typology of searchers: indifferent; reactive; haphazard; proactive; or engaged searcher.
The researchers carried out another piece of research, #alternativefacts, April-June 2017: an online survey (538 responses) and 23 interviews in Westhill with the same method as before (using political party websites that claimed to present facts).
The online survey asked people to rate the reliability of information in 5 screenshots. Work on transcription and analysis is still very much going on, so emerging results were presented from the online survey.
From the online survey, 64% were female, about two thirds resident in Scotland, a range of ages and political party allegiance. The interviewees were mostly female, with about half aged 60 and over. Baxter showed a couple of slides showing people's opinions about perceived reliability. In each case there was a full spectrum of opinion (from think it very reliable to very unreliable or don't know).

The Green party's screenshot fared best in terms of people thinking it reliable, but none of the images had a majority thinking it was reliable. Survey respondents were asked for examples of facts exposed as falsehood: the included Iraq, Brexit, but also "The Vow" (made by Gordon Brown in trying to affect the result of Indyref). Asked about factors affecting trust - these included levels of trust in politicians in general (although did trust some individual politicians).
Political allegiance seemed to affect views e.g. 74.5% of SNP supporters felt that the SNP image contained reliable data. Respondents were wary of facts from unfamiliar sources; and thought that facts could be biased and be subject to spin. They were affected by their own personal or professional experience: i.e. if they has experience or knowledge in the area that was covered by the information they were looking at. Likely sources of good information (according to respondents) included trusted media sites, academic institutions etc. but Google was likely to be a first point of call for fact checking. The researchers managed to track down the actual sources of the political party-generated information they used in the survey: in each case there was foundation for the facts, but some selectivity, and the information was hard to track down.
Finally Baxter presented an emerging model, mapping the journey of a political fact.
First photo by Sheila Webber (donor board in Aberdeen University Library) second picture from the presentation

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