What to believe? Perspectives on fake news and misinformation

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Since the dawn of human civilisation conspiracy theories and misinformation have been used as a tool by those wielding power and influence to motivate and mislead. History is replete with memorable examples, from the propaganda campaigns deployed by Octavian, the future Emperor Augustus, to consolidate power and win the last of the Roman civil wars, to the use of the printing press in England in the mid-1700s to spread fake stories about King George II’s health during the height of the Jacobite rebellion.

In recent years, the term ‘fake news’ became mainstream during the 2016 US presidential election campaign during which hundreds of websites published falsified or biassed stories, capitalising on social media advertising revenue. States or their proxies also frequently engage in misinformation campaigns to attempt to gain strategic advantage. North Korea has been implicated in widespread cyber disinformation attacks, while pro-Kremlin actors are known to be responsible for the dissemination of media content intended to control the narrative around Russia’s military actions in Ukraine.

Today, efforts to spread falsehoods or present ‘alternative facts’ are vastly enhanced by digital infrastructures that enable messages to be tailored to specific psychological profiles and categories — and subcategories — of end users. Furthermore, the rise of political polarisation and hyper partisan media outlets have additionally created a fertile ground for the spread of cynicism and a distrust of institutions and the media conditions in which misinformation can thrive and take hold. The proliferation of misinformation poses an inevitable threat to social interaction and cohesion, influencing citizens’ opinions and shaping their behaviours. At its worst, it can also threaten the functioning of the state and undermine democratic processes.

This Collection welcomes research that considers all aspects of the misinformation ecosystem, the contextual factors that give rise to it and its ramifications. Perspectives are primarily invited from political science, philosophy, cultural studies, sociology, communications research, linguistics, and complex network studies.

Research is invited on the following topics, among others:

  • Role of digital media and technologies, such as artificial intelligence (e.g. social bots, deep fakes, online scams, and deception tactics)
  • Discourse and ideology
  • Rumours, folktales, and myths (national, secular, historical, and political)
  • Concepts of knowledge and reality
  • Knowledge production and dissemination
  • Public opinion, political engagement, polarisation, and echo-chamber Effects
  • Case studies of successful and unsuccessful dissemination of misinformation and/or fact-checking campaigns
  • Perceived credibility and partisanship of news sources, social data, and crowdsourced data
  • Countering and deterring misinformation (e.g., role of information literacy, emotions and experiences, education campaigns)
  • Conspiracy theories, misinformation and mainstream discourse (e.g., QAnon, anti vaccine and anti lockdown movements)
  • Misinformation and its effects in specific contexts (e.g. public health, climate debate, political discourse, race and identity)
  • Cultural and motivational roots of misbelief formation
  • Strategies/tools for identifying ‘fake news’ and sources of misinformation
  • Role of different actors (individuals, campaign groups, nation states, political parties, media organisations) in spreading misinformation or biassed narratives
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Closeup of paper in a typewriter with ‘Fake News’ typed in big, bold letters