The Covid-19 pandemic and protests against police violence have created endless opportunities for the spread of misinformation. Stuck in their homes, many people spend their days glued to social media, trying to stay informed about all the things happening in our world. Those conditions make us especially vulnerable to what researchers have called an “infodemic,” where we have difficulty sifting through the flood of information to understand what is real or fake, trustworthy or unreliable, evolving fact or settled truth, information or disinformation.
Researchers like Jennifer Schradie, PhD, who is a sociologist and assistant professor at the Observatoire Sociologique du Changement at SciencesPo in Paris, can help us make sense of this challenge. The author of the book, The Revolution That Wasn’t: How Digital Activism Favors Conservatives, Schradie looks at how inequalities, ideology, and institutions shape participation on social media and in our new information society.
Schradie spoke with GEN about the connection between information and trust, and what the news media can do to fight back against it.
GEN: Early on in the Covid-19 pandemic, experts often gave conflicting guidance on everything from social distancing to wearing a face mask based on what information was available at the time. For everyday news-consumers, how can we sift through all the different — at times conflicting — information we receive over time?
Jennifer Schradie: Everyone comes to news and information with a different context. The focus tends to be on ideological difference (which obviously is there) but there’s also things like different levels of education or internet access. We come to information in community — whether it is on public platforms or in smaller networks. Some people are aware of ways to verify if a story is true, but I think it comes down “what mediators do I trust?” Do I trust the New York Times or Fox News? This idea that people would have the time and resources to discern complex academic research and delve into those details is so incredibly onerous and challenging. We all rely on mediation — whether it is…