How do people use personal messaging platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Snapchat or Apple Messages to discover and share information?
This project focuses on people’s everyday experiences, social contexts, and media diets to investigate how potentially misleading information spreads online.
Misinformation is when false or misleading information is shared, but no harm is meant by the sharer. It is unintentional behaviour that may inadvertently mislead. It differs from disinformation, which involves an intention to mislead.
Based in the Online Civic Culture Centre, the Centre for Research in Communication and Culture, and the Deartment of Communication and Media at Loughborough University, the Everyday Misinformation Project is a three-year study funded by the Leverhulme Trust. The project’s aim is to develop better-contextualised understanding of why people share and correct misinformation online.
The project has a unique focus on personal messaging, or what are sometimes called private social media or encrypted messaging apps. These services, particularly WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, are hugely popular in the UK, but their role in the spread of misinformation is not well understood. In part, this is because, due to their nature, these services are difficult to research. Unlike public social media, they do not have public online archives and they feature end-to-end encryption.
Crucially, however, communication on personal messaging is never entirely defined by its privacy. Rather, we think these services are best understood as hybrid public-interpersonal communication environments. They weave constant, often emotionally intimate, connection into the fabric of everyday life and are used mainly to maintain relationships with strong ties, such as family, friends, parents, co-workers, and local communities. Yet often the information shared on these services comes from media and information sources in the public worlds of news, politics, science, and entertainment, before it then cascades across private groups, often losing markers of provenance along the way. Personal messaging involves private, interpersonal, and public communication in a variety of subtle, complex, and constantly shifting ways. Understanding how this shapes the spread and the correction of misinformation requires sensitivity to unique affordances and patterns of use. This is our project.
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Funding for the Everyday Misinformation Project was applied for in May 2019 and received in March 2020. Following a delay due to the Covid pandemic, work began in March 2021. The Principal Investigator is Professor Andrew Chadwick, the Co-Investigator is Professor Cristian Vaccari; Dr Natalie-Anne Hall is the Postdoctoral Research Associate.
The fieldwork has three strands:
—Longitudinal in-depth qualitative interviews with 102 members of the public based in three regions of the UK, recruited to roughly reflect the diversity of British society in terms of age, gender, ethnicity, educational attainment, and a basic indicator of digital literacy.
—Analysis of personal messaging content the participants voluntarily upload to personal online diaries via a mobile smartphone app.
—Multi-wave nationally representative panel surveys, to be designed based on findings from the first two strands of fieldwork.
Key Project Objectives
To explain the complex mix of social, political, and technological factors that lead individuals, in their everyday social settings, to challenge false and misleading information and decide not to share it online.
To generate new concepts and data that update and expand the idea of digital literacy.
To establish the links between specific digital literacies and informed and responsible citizenship.
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