Information about misinformation

Curtin researcher Dr Mengbin Ye is working on a new project about how misinformation spreads through social networks. Photo: Anna Koval.

A Curtin study into how and why fake news spreads on social media has received a $1 million grant from the State Government and Curtin University.

Dr Mengbin Ye is heading up the four year project that will involve the use of mathematical modelling and AI algorithms to analyse data about how we interact with false information.

Dr Ye said: “What I hope to get out of the project are some general findings and recommendations. What are some factors that cause a particular piece of misinformation to spread faster than others or why particular communities or particular social media platforms are particularly susceptible to misinformation spreading.”

In a time of rampant misinformation on topics like COVID-19, climate change and elections, this research is sought-after. A recent nationwide survey by Western Sydney University found 67 per cent of Australians said knowing how to recognise and stop the spread of misinformation was very important, however, only 39 per cent felt confident in their ability to identify misinformation.

Dr Ye said understanding how misinformation works would help with combatting it: “With the models we will be able to understand what are some ways to stop it. For example, we could target key individuals that are spreading it.”

Dr Ye’s past research was about how behaviours spread through social networks. Photo: Supplied.

Curtin University associate professor of marketing Billy Sung said: “More theoretical understanding is very, very important for us to even address the issue. Social media has been spending millions of dollars on machine learning algorithms to identify misinformation (rumours, myths, or false information) from true information and they pretty much failed. Without knowing what classifies as misinformation and without identifying the behaviour and the motivation for sharing misinformation, we can’t really do much about this phenomenon.”

Social media has been spending millions of dollars on machine learning algorithms to identify misinformation … from true information and they pretty much failed.

Dr Billy Sung

Once he develops a general model about how misinformation works, Dr Ye wants to look at applying it to real situations, “After these four years there can be another follow on project where we engage much more closely with a particular business or policy maker and look at a specific problem they are facing and we can apply these models in a particular scenario.”

Dr Sung said once there was more misinformation research available, governments could use it to create regulations and educational programs.

“From a government perspective you can start regulating and looking at how do we provide an online digital platform that allows people to accurately identify misinformation,” he says.

“It might also be used by government agencies and even private corporations to provide educational programs or behavioural change programs and initiatives to help build a society where we are less susceptible to misinformation or the sharing of misinformation.”