As misinformation about COVID-19 and vaccines Soaring, The Center for the Informed Public (CIP) of the University of Washington is stepping up its efforts to document, understand, and combat the rampant spread of unfounded claims on social media platforms.
center Announced today It has received US$2.25 million in grants totaling US$3 million from the National Science Foundation. Kate Starbird, an associate professor of human-centered design and engineering at the University of Washington, who will lead the project, said the funds will be used to “develop and evaluate’quick response’ methods for research and exchange of false information.”
The new effort will begin in October, including support from Stanford University.
CIP is already working on similar issues.The University of Washington is part of a team of universities created in the summer of 2020. The team is called Election Integrity Partnership Monitor and share false and false information about the November elections spread on social media in real time.
CIP was launched in 2019 to promote cooperation between professors in engineering, law, biology and other fields to test the powerful role of Facebook, Twitter and other platforms in global communication.
In June, CIP’s Joseph Barker-Coleman Is the main author A piece of paper This requires that the study of “collective behavior”—that is, how we collect and share information and make decisions—is elevated to the urgent status of a “crisis discipline”. This research is a call to draw attention to the great challenges represented by misinformation and communication networks. It was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“We have global problems, and this requires global communication. If we can’t talk to each other, we can’t solve the problem of global warming. So it’s great that we have these tools to spread information around the world,” He says. “Unfortunately, since they are currently being built and used, they don’t seem to be optimized for this. They are optimized for revenue.”
In the face of pandemics, national elections, climate crises and other events, these locations have been hotbeds of chaos and worse.Due to lagging vaccination rates and a surge in the Delta variant of COVID, President Biden last month Blame Facebook “Killing” people because they failed to effectively contain the spread of false claims about vaccines. Biden later softened his message, but because billion-dollar companies have had limited success in self-regulating inaccurate content, there is a general call for more active regulation of these platforms.
Bak-Coleman, a postdoctoral researcher, said: “It seems almost unreasonable to suggest that we can let go and let some invisible hands lead society to the happiest and healthiest future.”
We interviewed Bak-Coleman and interviewed his recent publications. The answer has been edited for clarity and length.
GeekWire: Your background is biology, and you see the similarities between individuals participating in social media networks and biological systems. Can you explain?
Buck Coleman: “I’m engaged in collective behavior, initially in schools of fish, but across species. One thing we keep seeing is that animals keep doing these amazing things, or many ways that seem amazing—such as groups of Birds decide where to go, or fish avoid predators or swarming locusts-this is all simple local rules, and then the network structure allows [collective behavior] appear.
A more memorable example is that ants track the traces of pheromone. They roughly follow the rule that if I smell the traces of pheromone left by the ants, I will stay on it, which makes me put it down. If they finally go around in a circle, they may fall into a circle until they all starve to death. It is called the ant factory or ant death spiral.
I learned about this during the 2016 election. This is a wake-up call for many Americans, and social media is doing something. I happen to be teaching conservation biology at the same time, so all these are combined. “
GW: What is the path to more responsible social media?
Buck Coleman: “In the most optimistic part of my brain, I hope that at some point, the company will realize that regulators and the public will realize,’Wow, this is something we can’t just monetize,’ and then we have to Find a sustainable business model.
That is my most optimistic self. I don’t know that this happens in every company. Of course, Facebook is showing that this is not the direction they want.
Therefore, this may be attributed to whether the regulator realizes that this chaotic social system is just a nightmare for governance, which may be part of it. The public may find that they dislike the idea of big companies overseeing society and how we interact. Or maybe scientists have found clever ways to reveal how the damage caused by these technologies occurs. I think that all of these together will hopefully promote transparency. Ideally, transparency will make people pay more attention to what is happening and become a feedback process. “
GW: How do social media companies circumvent regulation?
Buck Coleman: “One thing that fossil fuel companies do-like tobacco companies and the Sackler family that own opioids-is agnosticism, trying to create uncertainty. This is their goal… you make To overcome suspicion, enough uncertainty to avoid regulation.
Then you paste a small patch on it. You put the filter on the cigarette and say that it is safe. I think these companies are actually following the same script.
If you look at that Press release Facebook [on July 17],Full of Half-baked statisticsTo say that 85% of Facebook users are interested in vaccines and all of this is almost like false information in a textbook, trying to give the impression that the company is only doing well. “
GW: You call for “evidence-based management” of communication networks. what does that mean?
Buck Coleman: “What we are advocating is that scientists should start thinking about how this system works and how it fails. Then we can let the public and regulators make informed decisions about our social system.
Regarding how to build a healthy communication network on a large scale, this is an ideal way to make money for companies that we need to figure out. As scientists, we don’t yet understand some basic things.
We are not advocating some kind of technological dominance or elite-driven social media system, far from it. We advocate an understanding that enables society as a whole to make informed decisions about how they want to ideally build social media systems in a way that provides everyone with a voice and access to information. “
GW: If social media is no longer the main source of misinformation, what will be the broader impact?
Buck Coleman: “If we solve this problem, then we will also solve many other problems. If we have a good and healthy information ecosystem, then it should not be difficult to see that the elected leaders advocate basic public health policies. Let people be vaccinated safely, A healthy and effective vaccine should not be difficult.
On the one hand, this is a more difficult problem in some ways, but there are many reasons why climate change is so difficult [to respond to] It’s because we don’t understand collective behavior, and this is the problem we want to solve.
This is a big problem, and it is urgent, but we can make progress. It may not be the full scale of creating utopia, but it may be to adjust the recommendation algorithm so that we have more people vaccinated, or it may be to avoid radicalization and stop genocide.
We can make real tangible progress. Even if a large healthy ecosystem may still be a little away, most of it may be fairly easy. “