Federal government wants tool to reprimand journalists for ‘divisive’ stories

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A federal government agency is spending $ 750,000 of taxpayer dollars to develop tools that will scold journalists that their stories can spark arguments among readers.

The project, titled America’s Fourth Estate at Risk: A System for Mapping the (Local) Journalism Life Cycle to Rebuild the Nation’s News Trust, is part of the National Science Foundation (NSF) Trust & Authenticity in Communication Systems initiative.

This money was turned over to Temple University in Philadelphia, with researchers currently working on a tool to prevent “the initiation of uncivil and polarizing speech, public misinterpretations, the production of disinformation and the perpetuation of false narratives.”

The researchers say they will turn natural language into an algorithm and combine it with data on how social media is being used to design the new tool.

The National Science Foundation has awarded a $ 750,000 grant to Temple University (pictured) in Philadelphia and researchers are currently working on a tool to prevent “the initiation of uncivil and polarizing speech, public misinterpretation, production of misinformation and the perpetuation of false narratives ”.

But they have yet to give examples of material that could “trigger uncivil and polarizing discourse,” and further explain how the tool will make the difference between healthy debate online and more angry exchanges.

And the project raised new concerns after saying journalists would be warned if their stories could be distorted online to spread disinformation, even though there is no suggestion that the work they produced is inaccurate. .

“So you can imagine some kind of analytical tool that informs journalists, editors and other people involved in this business of how their products or how their creative act is being used or misused in the media. social, ”said Eduard Dragut, professor at Temple University. with the project, Campus Reform said.

“We want journalists to be part of the process, not just the simple users of the product itself.”

The NSF, in a press release, asserted that the “overarching goal” of the initiative is to “address the urgent need for tools and techniques to help the nation prevent, mitigate and adapt effectively to threats. critical for communication systems “.

The National Science Foundation (pictured) asserted that the

The National Science Foundation (pictured) asserted that the “overall goal” of the initiative is to “address the urgent need for tools and techniques to help the nation prevent, mitigate and adapt effectively to threats critical to communication systems “.

NSF researchers also hope to help journalists better understand and measure the long-term impact of their content on communication, and not just initial reactions such as opinions, likes or shares (Photo: newsroom Temple University student)

NSF researchers also hope to help journalists better understand and measure the long-term impact of their content on communication, and not just initial reactions such as opinions, likes or shares (Photo: newsroom Temple University student)

The organization argued that modern life and economic growth are “dependent” on access to “reliable and accurate information” and that communication systems can be “”handled or have unforeseen negative effects.

NSF researchers also hope to help journalists better understand and measure the long-term communications impact of their content, and not just initial reactions such as views, likes or shares.

But it’s unclear why the NSF expects journalists to invest their time in analyzing reactions to their work. The NSF has yet to explain how the new tools will avoid penalizing journalists who cover difficult and controversial topics, who often spark fury on social media but meet a much more relaxed or open-minded response around the world. real.

“You can imagine that every news article is usually, or in fact almost all of the time, accompanied by user comments and reactions on Twitter,” Dragut explained.

“One of the goals of the project is to retrieve them, then use natural language processing tools or algorithms to extract them and recommend them to certain users. [that] this discussion space, this set of tweets, which can lead to a set of people, like a sub-community, where this article is being used for the wrong reasons. ‘

Professor R. Lance Holbert of Temple University, who is also involved in the team, said researchers are currently focusing their efforts on disinformation in the local media.

Professor Eduard Dragut said the researchers want “journalists to be part of the process, not just simple users of the product itself”

“Some topics over time will become more or less interesting, but we also focus here initially on local media, so each locality may have different topics or particular points of interest that appear in the news,” did he declare. “We try to keep this generalizable to all subjects. “

The project – which is a collaborative effort using researchers from Temple, the University of Illinois Chicago, and Boston University – will also involve partnerships with academic organizations, government, the non-profit sector. lucrative and journalism industry.

Dragut stressed that the project could only be successful with partnerships with media companies – but none have yet made a final decision to join the project.

“We’re having a preliminary conversation with Bloomberg, for example, and we’ll have to define exactly how they’re going to help us. Google has an initiative to help local news, and we’re working to build a relationship with them, and there are others, ”Dragut said.

He says the research team is trying to create a collaborative environment with social media platforms and other tech giants, such as Google.

“This product will only work if we can get some of these high tech companies into the game,” he said.

The NSF has invested a total of $ 9 million in the initiative in hopes of tackling disinformation online.

U.S. Surgeon General Dr Vivek Murthy has expressed support for the initiative

U.S. Surgeon General Dr Vivek Murthy has expressed support for the initiative

US Surgeon General Dr Vivek Murthy expressed his support for the company, saying: “This is an important step in eliminating bogus sources of information, restoring the confidence we have in our information systems. communication and helping those targeted by disinformation. ”

NSF has ten teams under its Trust & Authenticity in Communications research umbrella, including the aforementioned project.

The top three or four teams will move on to phase two of the initiative, meaning NSF will provide more funding for these projects.

At the moment, it is still unclear which projects will move on to the next phase.


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