Researching rumors and debunking for the Tow Center at Columbia University

Screen Shot 2014-09-02 at 11.24.06 AMI’m happy to share that I’ve been named a fellow with the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University. I’m joining to conduct research into how news organizations deal with rumors and unconfirmed information,  and to identify best practices for how journalists can debunk misinformation.

The result will be a research paper published in 2015, which will be available for free online. I will also be a launching a public-facing website where anyone can view the data being collected for the project. Expect more about that at the ONA Conference in late September. To get updates on that site and the project, please sign up below. (I will not sell or share your info.)

The Tow Center has been funding some excellent work, including the recent study of UGC use in TV and online news, a comprehensive report about the history and current state of data journalism [PDF], and a definitive work on sensor journalism [PDF].

This fellowship gives me the chance to really dig into the area of debunking, which has become something of an obsession for me. I’ve done some writing about it for Poynter, but this project enables me to conduct quantitative research to learn more about how rumors are being treated by news orgs, and what can be done to better debunk false information in a networked world.

I will be doing my best over the coming months to identify and track the reporting of rumors and misinformation in the press, and log this in a database I’m building with Adam Hooper. We are also working with the talented folks at the design and product firm Normative to create the public facing website you’ll hear more about soon enough.

So, if you see a rumor starting to make its way into the press, I encourage you to email me a link. Ditto for hoaxes and misinformation that are being reported. I’d be grateful.

Here’s a bit more info from the project proposal:

This research project draws on qualitative and quantitative data to test and analyze strategies and best practices for debunking misinformation. It will provide actionable guidance for newsrooms on how to best debunk misinformation, while also offering an overview of relevant psychological factors such as the backfire effect, motivated reasoning, the illusion of truth and the hostile media effect, among others. This helps journalists better understand how our brains process (and often reject) contradictory information.

Research questions:

  • What challenges do reporters/newsrooms face when engaging in debunking, and how can they be overcome?
  • What are the most effective ways for news organizations to debunk hoaxes and misinformation?
  • Are there shared characteristics of debunkings that spread and generate engagement?
  • Overall, are news organizations effective at correcting and debunking online misinformation?

4 Responses to “Researching rumors and debunking for the Tow Center at Columbia University”

  1. Jeremy Teale
    October 9, 2014 at 5:41 am #

    Please, I beg you, gift us a Github account of the implementation after your paper’s publication.

  2. Craig Silverman
    October 9, 2014 at 7:15 am #

    I’m pretty sure we will open source at least one aspect of what’s being built, so you can keep an eye here: https://github.com/craigsilverman/ (It’s in a private repo right now.)

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  1. 9.10.14 Daily Links | Daily Links & News - September 10, 2014

    […] http://www.craigsilverman.ca/2014/09/02 An update from a recent fellow at Columbia University’s Tow Center whose yearlong fellowship will lead to thinking and acting and writing about best-practices in debunking false information, ludicrous rumors, gossip both vicious and idle, and so forth: "This fellowship gives me the chance to really dig into the area of debunking, which has become something of an obsession for me. I’ve done some writing about it for Poynter, but this project enables me to conduct quantitative research to learn more about how rumors are being treated by news orgs, and what can be done to better debunk false information in a networked world." […]