Researcher publishes parliamentary report on the rise of fake news

Katie Raymer, who is studying for a PhD in our Department of Physics and Astronomy, has co-authored a report as part of her STFC internship with the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology examining how people access news and information and the rise of fake news.

The report outlines how internet search engines and social media platforms are an increasingly popular way of accessing news and information. Research shows that in 2017 the proportion of UK adults consuming news online exceeded those who watched news on TV (74% versus 69%).

It examines how people access news online, how algorithms (sequences of instructions) and social networks influence the content that users see, and options for mitigating any negative impact.

One area of contention examined is how social media filters could lead to users only seeing content that conforms to their pre-existing beliefs, and that this could unintentionally limit the range of information that users see, potentially resulting in echo-chambers and filter bubbles developing.

Some of the key points from the report are that:

  • Social media platforms and Internet search engines have made it easier to produce, distribute and access information and opinions online.
  • These technologies, combined with user behaviour, filter the content that users see. On the one hand, some studies suggest that this limits users’ exposure to attitude-challenging information and that echo-chambers or filter bubbles may form. On the other hand, other studies argue that users still see a wider range of information than offline.
  • Online fake news has the potential to confuse and deceive users, and is often financially or politically motivated.
  • UK efforts to address these issues are largely led by industry and focus on fake news. They include better identification, fact-checking and user education. 

The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology provides independent, balanced and non-party political briefings for Parliament.

Katie said: "Following recent political events such as the US Presidential Election and the EU Referendum, concerns have been raised about the spread of fake news online and what effect it may have on people’s opinions.

"The policy briefing note I have worked on will provide parliamentarians with an impartial analysis of the available research on how people access news and information online, the spread of fake news and its effects, and the possible ways to mitigate any negative impacts."