It has taken the lives of millions worldwide and parts of Australia are in the grip of the Delta strain. COVID-19 has changed society and created a global infodemic, exacerbated by the expansion of the news industry to online says a new report from QUT’s Digital Media Research Centre (DMRC) and the Global Disinformation Index (GDI)
The report profiles the risk of disinformation in Australia’s media ecosystem, highlighting weaknesses as well as opportunities for improvement.
It found despite the financial incentives that can drive propagate disinformation, most Australian news sites still present only a minimum risk in spreading fake news but could do much better when it comes to accountability, transparency, and attribution.
DMRC Director Professor Patrik Wikstrom said the Disinformation Risk Assessment: The Online News Market in Australia report would be launched during a webinar today featuring a panel of experts discussing fake news from various angles including ad tech, civil society, media, information literacy, and more.
The report reviews 34 Australian media outlets, chosen for their reach, including Facebook and Twitter followers, and relevance. Sites assessed include the ABC, Sky News, Newscorp, Nine Newspapers, SBS, 7news.com.au, Nine.com.au, Crikey, New Matilda and Pedestrian TV.
“Media in Australia is concentrated to a small number of organisations and the Australian Communications and Media Authority found 86 per cent of Australians used the internet to access news in 2020,” said Professor Wikstrom.
“And citizens with limited local news access, which is increasingly the case for those in regional Australia, are turning more to social media for news – fertile ground for the spread of fake news.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a tsunami of fake news, especially on social media. Our trust in the media has been put to the test and media organisations are facing a crisis. In expanding to the online world, the industry has been exposed to more risks concerning disinformation.
“News websites have financial incentives to spread disinformation, to increase their online traffic and, ultimately, their advertising revenue. The disinformation surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic is the perfect example of the dangers inherent in this. By disrupting society’s shared sense of accepted facts, these narratives undermine public health, safety, and government responses.
“The Global Disinformation Index deploys its assessment framework to rate the disinformation risk of news domains. These independent, trusted and neutral ratings are used by advertisers, ad tech companies and platforms to redirect their online ad spending, in line with their brand safety and disinformation risk mitigation strategies.”
Clare Melford, co-founder and executive director of GDI, said the Index defined disinformation as ‘adversarial narratives that create real world harm,’ and its risk rating provided information about a range of indicators related to the risk that a given news website will disinform its readers by spreading such adversarial narratives.
“The GDI risk rating methodology is not an attempt to identify and label disinformation sites or trustworthy news sites. Its approach is based on the idea that a combined set of indicators can reflect a site’s overall risk of carrying disinformation,” said Ms Melford, who added news market assessments were also being conducted this year in Argentina, Brazil, Canada, India, Italy, Kenya, Malaysia, Mexico, Nigeria and Spain.
“These indicators are grouped under the index’s Content and Operations pillars, which measure the quality and reliability of a site’s contents and its operational and editorial integrity.”
Professor Wikstrom said the report covered the period from April to September 2021 and found that nearly 75 per cent of the sites in the sample had a low to minimum risk of disinforming their online users.
“Only a limited number of Australia’s sites present high or maximum levels of disinformation risk and just one site was rated as having a maximum level of disinformation risk,” he said.
“We would like to see news sites focus on adopting and making transparent journalistic and operational standards like those set by the Journalism Trust Initiative.”
Register here for the 90-minute webinar which starts at 6pm AEST. The webinar is hosted by Professor Wikstrom, and speakers include Clare Melford, co-founder and executive director, GDI, Esther Chan, bureau editor, First Draft, and QUT DMRC Researchers, Dr Ehsan Dehghan, Dr Sofya Glazunova, Dr Timothy Graham and Associate Professor Stephen Harrington.
The full report is available online at: https://disinformationindex.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/GDI_QUT-Australia-Disinformation-Risk-Assessment-Report-21.pdf
Watch the report launch here.