Horizon 2020, the current research and innovation programme, has mobilised significant resources in addressing information veracity for social media and media. The Social Observatory for Disinformation and Social Media Analysis (SOMA) along with other EU-funded projects (PROVENANCE, SocialTruth, EUNOMIA, WeVerify) provide a springboard for the social media sector to steer an understanding of its dynamics and the relationship between social media and other sectors.
The observatory has already gathered a significant number of resources and analysis around coronavirus “infodemic” and disinformation-related knowledge. These proposed solutions take the form of various types of projects including: a platform for content verification; fact-checking tools; a methodology for the socio-economic impact assessment of disinformation; strategies and actions to increase media literacy, analyse legal roadblocks and community-based self-regulation aspects; a repository of disinformation-related knowledge.
The HERoS project, for example,improves the efficiency of the response to the virus outbreak. It aims to help responders to public health emergencies make informed decisions. To this end, the project is developing a new method for categorising and filtering information from social media to better counter coronavirus rumours and misinformation.
Several other ongoing projects under Horizon 2020 (Societal Challenge 6 and the Science with and for society section) have adjusted their activities and included coronavirus in scope. For instance, the project Co-Inform, working on tools to foster critical thinking and digital literacy for a better-informed society, has already published on Misinformation and COVID-19. The QUEST project, working on quality and effectiveness in science and technology communication, has naturally paid attention to different aspects of quality science communication around the coronavirus crisis. The TRESCA project, working on developing trust in science and innovation through innovating communication practices between scientific researchers, journalists and policy makers, has also analysed basic digital sanitary practices to stop misinformation.
The aim of the Horizon2020 funded FANDANGO project is to aggregate and verify different typologies of news data, media sources, social media, open data, so as to detect fake news and provide a more efficient and verified communication for all European citizens. As such, the FANDANGO project aims to break data interoperability barriers providing unified techniques and an integrated big data platform to support traditional media industries to face the new “data” news economy with increased transparency under the Responsible, Research and Innovation prism.
The European Research Council (ERC) supports theoretical investigations, like the one developed by Phil Howard, director of the Oxford Internet Institute and recipient of an ERC Consolidator Grant for project COMPROP on “Computational Propaganda: Investigating the Impact of Algorithms and Bots on Political Discourse in Europe”. It applies the best available methods in social and computer science to work on possible solutions. The ERC website and the ERCTalks series had already presented his research. Together with his team, he has been running Coronavirus Misinformation Weekly Briefings and was recently interviewed about disinformation during the coronavirus pandemic. The work developed by Jason Reifler, professor at Exeter University and recipient of a Consolidator Grant for DEBUNKER, a project on “Misperceptions in Politics, Health, and Science: Causes, Consequences, and the Search for Solutions”, presented in this recent article.
More research will start soon, such as the FARE project addresses the spread of fake news by providing a theoretical framework for making testable predictions. The project will develop multidisciplinary research that advances our understanding of the decision-making process and the mistakes we have made on fake news, using experimental and computing techniques (big data and complexity systems).
The European Research Council also supports proof of concept projects like GoodNews, which applies deep learning technology for the detection of fake news. It aims to build a technological capability for algorithmic fake news detection in social media using a novel paradigm. Instead of following the traditional approach of analysing the news content, it will analyse the news spreading patterns in social networks. The algorithmic core of this project is based on a novel class of geometric deep learning algorithms developed in the LEMAN (Learning on Manifolds and Graphs) project.
The European Innovation Council has steered the #EUvsVirus Hackathon, organised in close collaboration with EU member states with the purpose of connecting civil society, innovators, partners and investors across Europe in order to develop innovative solutions for coronavirus related challenges. Solutions under the challenges on “Mitigating fake news spreading” were invited to the “Matchathon” organised by the European Innovation Council on 22-25 May in order to mobilise financing. Additionally, the European Innovation Council also supported companies in developing semi-automated fake-news detection systems through actions like Truthcheck and Newtral.
Other existing tools
The Epidemics Intelligence from Open Sources (EIOS) platform, a collaboration between the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Joint Research Centre (JRC), was designed to rapidly identify potential public health threats, using information from media reports. It helped WHO to detect the first signs of the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan at the end of December last year, and has since been used to trace the spread of the disease globally. It is based on the JRC’s Europe Media Monitor Medical Information System (MEDISYS) tool, collating up to 120,000 articles per day related to the coronavirus pandemic.
Most fake news is written using words and a language chosen to deliberately arouse and heighten emotions of fear and anxiety. The Joint Research Centre developed a machine-learning program, called Misinfo Classifier, to identify patterns in the language, notably the “shrillness” of language, and identify whether something might be fake news or not. The tool is currently being used by the Commission and European Parliament and will be made available to reputable fact-checking organisations.
Social Rumour is another software used by the Commission and European Parliament. It identifies accounts on Twitter that are posting links to known dodgy sources. It then monitors other links posted by these accounts in order to pinpoint new narratives emerging on social media. It will also be made available to reputable fact-checking organisations.
Upcoming calls and projects
- The European Digital Media Observatory (EDMO) will support the creation and work of a multidisciplinary community composed of fact-checkers, academic researchers and other relevant stakeholders with expertise in the field of online disinformation. The project will contribute to a deeper understanding of disinformation-relevant actors, vectors, tools, methods, dissemination dynamics, prioritised targets and impact on society. It will receive €2.5 million funding through Connecting Europe Facility, the European infrastructure financing programme.
- Under Horizon 2020 (topic: “Evolving media landscapes and Europeanisation”) three projects will start early in 2021 after a recently closed call. The scope of the proposed challenge required to examine, amongst other aspects, the role of the media, including social media, language, news generation and new phenomena such as fake news. Therefore, it is likely that some of the funded projects will work on disinformation issues. Once the evaluation is finalised in July, the Commission services will explore whether disinformation in the context of coronavirus could be included in the work plans of the successful proposals. In any case, earliest results could only come end of 2021.
- A second call for expression of interest launched in response to the coronavirus pandemic under Horizon 2020 (Societal Challenge 1) will address the “Behavioural, social and economic impacts of the outbreak response”. It closed on 11 June. Proposals are encouraged to develop guidance for health behavioural patterns to positively influence adherence to behavioural advice and prevent disinformation about health issues and confinement, isolation and social distancing at societal, community and individual levels. Furthermore, the proposals should study factors contributing to the use of harmful self-medication and in anticipation of possible hesitancy towards vaccines.
- In Horizon Europe, the next research and innovation framework programme, the first work-programme for cluster 2 “Culture, creativity and inclusive society” will include relevant topics for research on disinformation, rising importance of a strong and independent media landscape and of the fight against fake news in the post-coronavirus context. In particular, topics envisaged for 2021-2022 may include research on:
- the political role of both legacy and new media, exploring how to uphold journalistic standards and support democracy through quality media
- the impact of online social networks and new media on individual and collective behaviour, beliefs and values
- civic education including media literacy