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CoROARborate: A student front against disinformation.

Magnifying glass courtesy of WikiMedia Commons Image by Karbyn https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Magnifying_glass_on_the_page_of_a_book.jpg

Staff writer Timothy Gribble announces the launch of CoROARborate. A brand new initiative designed to enhance student awareness of disinformation and resilience in tackling fake news.

“Addressing the root causes of disinformation requires a grassroots approach.”

Eliot Higgins, founder of Bellingcat.

January 6th of this year marked the 3-year anniversary of the attack on the capitol building by believers of the Q’anon conspiracy theory. Their reality was informed by an extensively disproven narrative that the 2020 presidential election had been stolen from Donald Trump. 3 years later, Trump is running once more. A poll conducted in June 2023 by Monmouth University found that 3 in 10 Americans still believe that the election was fraudulently won by President Joe Biden.

Election year

We will do well to keep that in mind as we enter 2024 – THE election year. More elections will take place this year than ever before, with over 4 billion able to vote across at least 83 countries conducting elections.  Throughout the recent World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos, many warned of an unprecedented concentration of false narratives, misleading information, deepfakes, misused images and videos entering our media.

Documents show that that China has built the ‘world’s largest disinformation’ operation, even targeting critics of the Chinese communist party (CCP)  in the US as well as United States government officials. Meanwhile, the recent victory of Taiwanese President William Lai’s pro-Western Democratic People’s Party will have significant consequences for the rising geopolitical tensions between the US and China. Russia has a similar approach to weaponizing disinformation. With both Russian and Ukrainian elections taking place this year, competing narratives about the war will surely fuel their extensive disinformation campaign.

In preparation for the Indian election, the Prime-minister, Narendra Modi, has warned of deepfakes and called upon the media to educate people on misinformation. Here in the United Kingdom Rishi Sunak’s promise of a general election is underlined by 70% of MPs voicing fears over the negative potential of AI (a recent deepfake of President Zelenskyy belly dancing reinforced that same fear in me).

This year there are a plethora of consequential, although not all free and fair, election cycles across the globe. As Darrel M West of the Brookings Institution think tank puts it

“Almost every democracy is under stress, independent of technology (…) When you add disinformation on top of that, it just creates many opportunities for mischief.”

Darrel M. West

Gen Z is engaging:

Meanwhile an increasing number of young people are engaging with the news. Gen Z teens (14-19) are consuming more news than their adult counterparts in the same cohort (20-25). According to the 2022 Deloitte digital media trends survey 78% of Gen z teens are consuming news daily from at least one source. This Is compared with 69% of Gen Z adults. (AKA us)

The positives of youth engagement with news are accompanied by the potential for serious negatives. Evidence from the same survey suggested that Half of Gen Z get their news from social media feeds and despite various attempts to combat disinformation, big social media companies like X and Meta have not come close to convincing anyone with their attempts to solve it. In fact, since Elon Musk’s takeover of X, concerns have only intensified.

In the storm of social media, there must be a gold standard of reference to calm the maelstrom of diversions and disinformation whilst providing clarity to the facts.

“Comment is Free, but Facts are Sacred”

C.P. Scott, 1921 (The Editor of the then Manchester Guardian)

Solving the problem:

Facing their own parliamentary election in 2024, the European Union put into effect a new law at the end of last year forcing social media giants to adopt new policies and practices to address corrosive content.  But regulation will prove difficult and is not without controversy. Many will be wary that regulations against ‘falsehoods’ could set a dangerous precedent of weaponisation by governments wishing to consolidate power. In fact, just this month a federal appeals court in the USA ruled that the Biden administration had violated the First Amendment guarantee of free speech by urging social media companies to remove content. Whatever the case we cannot rely on regulation to guard ourselves against misleading content. On top of that, AI improvement offers new risks and Open AI’s plan to prevent its tools being used to spread election misinformation has no guarantee of effectiveness.

CoROARborate:

Faced with an inevitable year of disinformation chaos, we have decided to launch a unique student-paper led initiative dedicated to engagement with fact checking. Our team aims to foster a culture of misinformation awareness at King’s College London to enhance the resilience of both current and future students. We believe that paying particular attention to fact checking and spotting misleading information has become an integral function for the modern media realm. This does not merely apply to politics, rather it applies to all media, be it about music, arts, sports, and celebrity culture.

Roar’s CoROARborate will cover a series of fake stories and misleading information (both funny and serious) from across the entire misinformation landscape. Our correspondents will monitor sources ranging from open-source investigators to active fact-checkers, working daily to authenticate circulating claims. As we move forward, and we learn more ourselves, our endeavours will become more ambitious, offering workshops for writers and students, and participating in fact-checking projects ourselves. With CoROARborate, Roar intends to prepare King’s students with more tools to spot misleading stories. The mass of information is becoming harder to navigate by the day, it’s up to us to learn how to corroborate it.

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