Nancy Watzman
Jun 7, 2018 · 11 min read

Twelve takeaways from Knight-supported research on restoring trust in news

[S]ocial media in particular have turned many journalists from participants in the work of institutions to managers of personal brands who carefully tend to their own public presence and presentation.

In a sense, people see what they want to see, in order to believe what they want to believe. In addition, everyone likes to be proven right, and changing their views is an admission that they were wrong, or at least had an incomplete understanding of an issue.

[T]he filtering of information that takes place on social media is not the product of the conscious choices of human users. Rather, what we see on our social media feeds and in our Google search results is the product of calculations made by powerful algorithms and machine learning models.

A deep dive into the academic literature tells us that the “echo chambers” narrative captures, at most, the experience of a minority of the public. Indeed, this claim itself has ironically been amplified and distorted in a kind of echo chamber effect.

[P]eople are more likely to believe a correction if it comes from a source for whom it runs counter to personal and political interests.

Finding strategies for artfully conveying complex information in ways that break down attention and trust-based barriers represents the most important challenge in our politically tumultuous time. But it’s one we can meet, and science can help.

[C]ontextual fact-checks can be remarkably successful in correcting misperceptions. In addition, compared to fact-checks of politicians and candidates, they run a smaller risk of creating a partisan backlash.

8. So does a three-dimensional filter map!

Ideally, our media filters would optimize for truth and legitimacy, ensuring that both agreeable and disagreeable content and sources are included (the map’s four blue cells)….By the same token, false and illegitimate messages would be excluded, again regardless of agreeableness (the four white cells). The conceptual leap I make here is from considering disagreeableness as a virtue in itself, to distinguishing between more and less desirable types of disagreeable content. There are many claims and opinions we should rightly dismiss out of hand, but there are others we should entertain despite disagreeing with them.

Our problem is the breakdown of institutions that facilitate valid social learning across diverse, disagreeing groups. Historically, the institutions that facilitate social learning, for example newspapers, schools, colleges and universities, have served also as anchors for shared norms of inquiry, including for the aforementioned commitment to honesty, for ideologically diverse populations.

Do you need to share strangers’ ideology in order to trust them? Fortunately, no.

We need spaces where different factions can engage with each other seriously–where the marketplace of ideas is allowed to operate.

Partisans … think of media consumption as an expressive political act.


Trust, Media and Democracy

People need trusted news and information to make democracy work.

Thanks to Jessica Clark.

Nancy Watzman

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Nancy Watzman is editor of Trust, Media & Democracy on Medium & director of strategic initiatives for Dot Connector Studio.

Trust, Media and Democracy

People need trusted news and information to make democracy work.