'Fake news' and the role of the expert

'Fake news' and the role of the expert

Professor David De Roure recently took part in a panel discussion on 'Fake News and the role of the expert' at the House of Commons.

Held as part of UK Parliament Week ('Engage. Explore. Empower'), the panel was aimed at stimulating thought around fake news, the role of the expert, and how changes in technology may have an impact on democracy. Parliament Week, this year from 13-19 November, is an annual festival that engages people from across the UK with Parliament, explores what it means to them and empowers them to get involved.

The Centre's Professor of e-Research  (pictured far right) joined panellists Will Moy (Director, Full Fact), Lucy Sladen (legal, policy and regulatory affairs advisor, News Media Association) and Dr Jack Stilgoe (senior lecturer, University College London) to respond to specific questions including how organisations can establish themselves as objective in a world where that is considered to be impossible, and the impact fake news has on public understanding of the world and on its response to traditional journalism.

The panel, which was open to the general public, was chaired by Penny Young, House of Commons Librarian and Managing Director of Participation and Research & Information.

Professor De Roure was invited in his capacity as former strategic adviser to ESRC and was specifically asked to respond to the issue: "whether or not algorithms are just serving us the news we want to see and giving us a rose-tinted view of the world where everyone agrees with us". In his response, he described two EPSRC-funded projects the Centre is involved in: the SOCIAM project, which investigates the Theory and Practice of Social Machines, and the PETRAS Internet of Things Research Hub.

SOCIAM is a collaborative project between the Centre, the University's Department of Computer Science, the University of Southampton and the University of Edinburgh. PETRAS is a consortium of nine UK universities working together to explore issues including privacy, ethics and trust. 

In the past, Professor De Roure explained, algorithms have been in a sense hand-written, but we are now seeing AI techniques such that humans can no longer predict or explain the outcome of an algorithm. So where does the responsibility lie? He also noted that, although the topic of the panel was fake news, we also need to be talking about fake data, as we start to live in the Internet of Things.

Algorithmic decision making is a topic attracting much attention at the moment, prompting a House of Commons Select Committee Inquiry on Algorithms in decision-making to be announced in February.

For other examples of the role The University of Oxford is playing in research around digital and ethical issues in the media, see the Oxford Internet Institute, a multidisciplinary research and teaching department of the University of Oxford, dedicated to the social science of the Internet. 

Explore tweets and photos from this and other UK Parliament Week events @YourUKParl #UKPW17.