Monday, September 20, 2021

Information Discernment in the “Post-truth” World #ECIL2021

Today is the first day of the European Conference on Information Literacy (ECIL2021) which takes place virtually from today until Thursday. I am presenting in three sessions, and also chairing the doctoral forum, and I will be doing a little liveblogging. Today is busy as I am presenting with Chris Thorpe, and running a workshop with Pam McKinney. I will blog separately about those. So here's my first liveblog. The day began with introductions from the conference committee, Serap Kurbanoğlu (Hacettepe University, Turkey), Sonja Špiranec, (University of Zagreb, Croatia), Joumana Boustany (Paris Descartes University, France) and Fabian Franke (University of Bamberg, Germany, which was to have been the conference venue). It included an introduction to the conference theme Information Literacy in a Post-Truth Era which was set for the original (postponed) 2020 conference. The speakers noted that it could have been feared that this theme would have gone out of date, but (sadly!) that is not the case. 

The first keynote session was Information Discernment in the “Post-truth” World from Stephan Lewandowsky (University of Bristol, UK). He started by giving a "brief history of lies, taking the example of US presidents and explaining how he thought that the lies had changed both quantitively and qualitatively: from carefully curated "systematic lies" to "shock and chaos" information (so the shift is from creating lies which the president wants to be believed to creating noise and confusion). This can change the nature of truth itself, and enable people to ignore challenges. Lewandowsky cited Hahl who coined the concept of the "authenticity of the lying demogogue" - that you show you are "of the people" by rejecting elitist norms, including what truth is and how you tell what is truth (or even the meaningfulness of truth). This can happen if people are questioning a system's legitimacy (as many people are questioning the legitimacy of governments in various parts of the world). Lewandowsky showed results of an experiment in which 26% of highly educated Trump voters identified a photo showing Trumnp's inauguration as having more people in it than a photo of Obama's (when it is very clear there are more people in the Obama photo - so this has to have been a deliberate decision). 

Lewandowsky went on to discuss how "misinformation sticks" and he talked about experiments in which people say that they know something is false, but the experiment shows that the misinformation is still informing their decisions. He talked about experiments in "inoculating" people against misinformation through the means of short videos which focus on explaining the manipulation techniques that are used. So this focused on exposing the manipulative techniques, rather than providing "the facts". There were ones on emotional language, false dichotomies, scapegoating, incoherence and ad hominem (attacks on a person) techniques. The experiments Lewandowsky and his colleagues conducted showed that the participants' information discernment increased (see the graphic at the top). In response to a question after the talk, he also talked about "booster shots" (video reminders) and they needed to have more research into how long the inoculations lasted.
One of the publications from this research is here (I think I blogged this previously). A recent experiment has used Islamist radicalising and Islamaphobic material, and also showed that this approach had a positive effect. Lewandowsky talked about addressing the issue more widely, and other work in the area (e.g. "lateral reading" and work by Geoff Walton & colleagues) and how you can go about debunking lies and liars.

Further experiments showed that changing beliefs did not necessarily result in changes in actions and decisions (this was an experiments to do with beliefs and voting intentions in the USA). 

I was of course happy to see that "teaching information literacy" was listed as an element in the "toolbox of countermeasures" (plus inoculating and debunking) at the end of the talk. He also gave links to the Debunking handbook 2020 , COVID19 vaccine communication handbook, and a report Technology and Democracy: Understanding the influence of online technologies on political behaviour and decision-making

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