EFFORTS to curb the spread of false information across journalism and social media will take centre stage in Stirling later this month.

MisinfoConX will summon academics and practitioners to discuss the impact of publishing inaccurate or material, whether through miscalculation or malice, and how such material is consumed by members of the public.

While the concept is often referred to by many as 'fake news', the phrase is much maligned by those behind the event, due to its misuse.

Next Thursday's event has been set up by the Hacks/Hackers Scotland group – which seeks to bring together journalists, or "hacks", and technologists, or "hackers".

Co-organiser Bissie Anderson hopes to foster a greater understanding among the public of how information is published and disseminated in the digital age.

She told the Stirling News: "MisinfoConX is going to be a series of smaller, local events, a bit like the TEDx format, and we are proud to be hosting the very first one in Scotland.

"I am currently doing a PhD in Journalism at the University of Stirling, and am delighted this is happening in our beautiful city. CodeBase Stirling, which is at the heart of Stirling's new Digital District (in the old Municipal Buildings), is just the right fit for our event.

"I think it is the right place and time for something like this. Especially today, when targeted advertising, trolling, and other malign interferences are rampant; when trust in traditional journalism is at its lowest and we don't know who we can trust, initiatives like MisinfoConX are more crucial than ever."

Ms Anderson added: "I would urge people against using the lazy term 'fake news' due to its conceptual ambiguity, not to mention the fact it has lost any meaning it might have originally had, when [US President Donald] Trump uses it day and night to attack the press.

"In 2017, the Council of Europe commissioned a report to try to identify what this thing we're dealing with actually is. The authors, Claire Wardle, director of First Draft News, and Hossein Derakshan, of the MIT Lab, argue against the use of the term 'fake news' as it doesn't adequately capture the nature of the phenomenon we're trying to describe.

"Instead, they argue, we should be talking about 'information disorder', which is a multi-dimensional concept and should therefore be approached from multiple perspectives."

The authors of the report posit that there are three main three types of information disorder: mis-information, dis-information, and mal-information.

  • Mis-information is when false information is shared, but no harm is meant.
  • Dis-information is when false information is knowingly shared to cause harm.
  • Mal-information is when genuine information is shared to cause harm, often by moving information designed to stay private into the public sphere.

Ms Anderson added: "You can see the different manifestations that it takes, which explains why it’s such a slippery concept and so hard to define.

"While all types are equally harmful, some – especially dis-information and mal-information – can be particularly dangerous and insidious, as they drip-feed repeated distortions of the truth.

"And thus, over time, affect people’s perceptions of events, giving rise to deep-seated beliefs, as the European Commission’s report on dis-information warns.

"As dis-information of this kind is harder to recognize and track, the potential damage to public deliberation and democracy can be significant."

The MisinfoConX event takes place at the CodeBase in Stirling on Thursday, January 31, from 9.30am.

Along with a healthy discussion on the subject, there will also be a fact-checking and verification workshop delivered by the Ferret Factchecking Service (FFS), and NewsGuard with officials coming from the US specifically for the event.

For those that were unable to attend, but are keen to hear the messages from the event, organisers insist others will still be able to take on board the lessons.

Ms Anderson said: "Our event will offer a platform for a comprehensive and in-depth debate on the issue, especially in a Scottish context.

"We will look to define the problem, placing it in the wider context of media convergence, participatory culture, the history of propaganda and spin, the falling trust in traditional journalism and why, now more than ever, we need journalism values in order to safeguard democracy."

She added: "We will make our materials available to the public as we believe everyone can benefit from increasing their awareness of the threats of misinformation and learning how to detect malign informational activity.

"Critical and analytical skills are, of course, very important here, but perhaps not enough; I feel there’s a certain type of informational literacy training necessary. We will debate that, and other possible solutions, on January 31."

For more information, visit eventbrite.co.uk/e/misinfoconx-scotland-tickets-53180015859


Hacks/Hackers is a grassroots community with more than 115 chapters around the world, which aims to cross the divide between journalism and technology, hence the name: hacks (journalists) and hackers (technologists). It started ten years ago in the San Francisco Bay Area and has since grown exponentially. It brings together journalists and technologists to build the future of journalism and, increasingly, counter rising threats to democracy and public deliberation.

The Scotland chapter was launched by organisers who felt there was a palpable need for the same conversation to be had here, given the distinctive nature of the Scottish public sphere and Scottish media.

The London chapter has been a huge success, regularly attracting digital journalists and technologists working in all the major media outlets in London. It aims to run regular meet-ups across the country including the Aberdeen data journalism festival in the making. The group is also on Twitter at @HacksHackersSco