Report Open Access

Opinion Forming in the Digital Age

Taylor, Steve; Pickering, Brian; Grace, Paul; Boniface, Michael; Bakir, Vian; boyd, danah; Engesser, Sven; Epstein, Robert; Fawzi, Nayla; Fernbach, Philip; Fisher, Dana, R; Gardner, Beth Gharrity; Jacobs, Kristof; Jacobson, Susan; Krämer, Benjamin; Kucharski, Adam; McStay, Andrew; Mercier, Hugo; Metzger, Miriam; Polletta, Francesca; Quattrociocchi, Walter; Sloman, Steven; Sperber, Dan; Spierings, C.H.B.M.; Wardle, Claire; Zollo, Fabiana; Zubiaga, Arkaitz

The Internet provides fast and ubiquitous communication that enables all kinds of communities and provides citizens with easy access to vast amounts of information, although the information is not necessarily verified and may present a distorted view of real events or facts. The Internet’s power as an instant source of mass information can be used to influence opinions, which can have far-reaching consequences.

This report’s purpose is to provide input into the advisory processes that determine European support for research into the effects and management of Fake News (e.g. deliberate misinformation), Echo Chambers (e.g. closed communities where biases can be reinforced through lack of diversity in opinions), and the Internet’s influence on social and political movements such as Populism; to provide insight into how innovation that takes these aspects into account can be supported. To address this aim, this report concerns socio-technical implications of the Internet related to the impact of closed communities and misinformation and makes recommendations derived from a consultation with domain experts concerning the research needed to address specific challenges.

This study has used the Delphi Method, an iterative consultation mechanism aimed at consensus building within a targeted panel of experts. Three rounds of iteration were undertaken and a total of fourteen experts participated in all three rounds. The result of the consultation is 67 assertion statements that reached consensus amongst the experts in five broad themes, and these are presented in this report and summarised into key recommendations.

The key overarching recommendation is that we need to understand how opinions are formed and are influenced in the current digital age. Investigations are needed to understand the underlying cognitive and emotional processes that enable peoples’ opinions to be influenced in the context of a hybrid media system that mixes online and offline channels and broadcast and interactive social media.

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