Digital Democracies Institute receives grant to combat fake news

Amy Harris discusses the threat of misinformation

ILLUSTRATION: @visuals / Unsplash

Written by: Karissa Ketter, News Writer

Led by SFU Communication professor Dr. Wendy Chun, the Digital Democracy Institute received the Canadian Foundation for Innovation grant to research misinformation in the media and improve media regulation. 

Beyond Verification: Authenticity and the Spread of Misinformation is a collaboration with Goodly Labs and the Infoscape Lab at Ryerson University along with the Digital Democracies Institute at SFU. 

In an interview with The Peak, Amy Harris, the Communications & Research Coordinator of the Digital Democracies Institute noted that the project aims to explore “how authenticity is created” in news and social media. 

Harris explained that inauthentic information, known as fake news, can have extremely negative implications on society. She noted that in recent months, fake news has interfered with COVID-19, particularly “how [misinformation] can spread conspiracy theories” and “[undermine] institutions that really should be relied upon,” such as medical officials. Fake news also has the ability to “impact election results [and] undermine trust in media sources and in politicians.”

Harris reported that they are “still in the early stages” of their project that currently has a timeline of 3–5 years. Once their research is complete, they’re planning to create legislation to “promote authentic views and try and combat the misinformation” in media. Details on their policy plans aim to be solidified in the coming years, according to Harris. 

As stated by Digital Democracies, they “integrate research [ . . . ] to address questions of equality and social justice in order to combat the proliferation of online ‘echo chambers,’ abusive language, discriminatory algorithms, and mis/disinformation.” Echo chambers are created when people subscribe to a single and repeated perspective in the media, which allows misinformation or fake news to be confirmed by multiple sources, unchallenged by a new perspective. The project declares that “fake news threatens democracy in Canada and globally.” 

Another research stream within The Digital Democracies Institute is the From Hate to Agonism project. It looks at how society uses conflict “not to foster hate and hate speech” but to use conflict as a vehicle for “debates and democratic dialogue” within media platforms. Through this project, the Digital Democracies Institute maintains that “conflict is a part of democratic dialogue.”

The institute in its entirety is a “group of diverse scholars and stakeholders from around the world.” Their main lab resides at the SFU Burnaby mountain campus in the School of Communication.