Wisconsin Watch joins national project to fight misinformation and preserve democracy

MADISON, Wis., September 19, 2022 (Wisconsin Watch) — Wisconsin Watch joins a nationwide project led by University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers that aims to protect democracy by limiting the spread and impact of misinformation .

With a new $5 million award from the National Science Foundation’s Convergence Accelerator program, researchers will continue development of Course Correct, a tool developed at the UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication to help journalists identify and to combat online misinformation.

Course Correct is a tool developed at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication to help journalists identify and combat misinformation online. Wisconsin Watch and several other news organizations are receiving funding to help researchers determine how well Course Correct works in real-life situations. (Coburn Dukhart/Wisconsin Watch)

Wisconsin Watch, the media outlet of Wisconsin’s nonpartisan, nonprofit investigative journalism center, and several other news organizations are receiving funding to help researchers determine how well Course Correct works in real-life situations.

Wisconsin Watch plans to use the funding to hire a reporter in early 2023 focusing on disinformation and misinformation. Misinformation is generally defined as false information that is disseminated with no intention of misleading people, while misinformation is deliberately intended to mislead.

Lies around COVID-19, contact tracing, the 2020 election and alleged voter fraud have led public officials and thousands of Wisconsinites to take actions that put themselves, others and democracy at risk . More than a million Americans have died from COVID-19, but a third of Wisconsin residents have not been fully vaccinated. And democracy hangs in the balance as some Wisconsin election candidates continue to deny that 81 million Americans — including a majority of Wisconsin voters — elected Joe Biden president.

A recent Knight Foundation report found that 74% of Americans are very concerned about the spread of misinformation on the internet, including strong majorities of Democrats (84%) and Republicans (65%).

Michael Wagner

With NSF funding, the UW-Madison-led group developed the first iteration of Course Correct in 2021. The tool helps journalists identify misinformation trends on social media, strategically correct false claims and test the effectiveness of corrections in real time.

The next phase of the project will roll out the tool to a wider audience using media partners Wisconsin Watch, the Capital Times in Madison, fact-checking site Snopes, and the International Fact Checking Network.

“In Phase I, we developed our misinformation detection system and performed promising preliminary tests of a method to correct misinformation within the networks it spreads,” said Mike Wagner, a professor at the school of journalism and principal researcher of the project. “Now we’ll partner with journalists at the local, state, and national levels to see how well Course Correct works in real-world settings.”

Andy Hall, executive director and co-founder of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, said the center’s role in the project aligns with its mission, which is “to increase the quality, quantity and understanding of journalism in research to foster informed citizenship and strengthen democracy.”

To better protect democracy from the corrosive effects of disinformation, Hall said, journalists need methods to catch fake documents earlier, before they mislead large numbers of people.

Andy Hall

“We look forward to beginning this difficult but essential work,” Hall said. He noted that the results of the project will be shared freely and that Wisconsin Watch, as always, will maintain independence over its journalism. NSF funding is expected to total approximately $166,000 over 18 months.

In addition to Wagner, other UW-Madison researchers involved in Course Correct include Professor Dhavan Shah, Assistant Professor Sijia Yang, and William Sethares, Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering. They will work with collaborators from other institutions, including Georgetown University, Georgia Tech, the University of Minnesota and Washington State University.

The team’s plan for Phase II of the project is to complete the scalable misinformation detection system and identify best practices for misinformation correction. Next, they will train journalists on Course Correct and conduct randomized controlled trials to measure the tool’s value.

“This project is unique in taking a convergence accelerator approach where we engage with the journalist and fact-checking communities early on and throughout the design and testing phases of the system,” said Sijia Yang. , assistant professor at UW-Madison.

“We hope to build a system that would give people working on the front lines of the fight against misinformation and disinformation real-time signals to identify emerging disinformation, rapid-response A/B testing capabilities, and evidence-based strategies. evidence for effective correction. I am delighted to be working with a dream team to tackle this pressing societal challenge. »

About the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism

The Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization with offices at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication and in Milwaukee at Marquette University. It was launched in 2009.

Its mission is to increase the quality, quantity and understanding of investigative journalism to foster informed citizenship and strengthen democracy. Its guiding values: Protect the vulnerable. Expose wrongdoing. Explore solutions.

The multimedia journalism of Wisconsin Watch, the Center’s outlet, digs into undercover issues, documents inequitable and failing systems, places findings in regional and national contexts, and explores potential solutions. Our goal is to create impact that improves people’s lives and holds power to account.

The Center embraces diversity and inclusivity in its journalism, training activities, hiring practices and workplace operations. The Center recognizes that its mission and society in general are strengthened by respect for the cultural traditions, beliefs and points of view of individuals. We further recognize that for journalism and our democracy to reach their highest potential, a solid source of reliable information on key issues must be accessible to all.

Our staff trains diverse groups of current and future investigative journalists and entrepreneurs through workshops, internships and fellowships, mentorship, and collaborations with journalism courses and news organizations. And we share information about journalistic practices, ethics and impact with the public.

Wisconsin Watch reports are published on WisconsinWatch.org, and content is made freely available to the public and news organizations through partners such as Apple News, Microsoft Start, and our own distribution system. To subscribe to our newsletters, please click here.

In 2021, Wisconsin Watch produced 74 articles that were published or quoted by more than 360 news outlets in Wisconsin and 33 states, Washington DC, and 13 countries, reaching an estimated audience of more than 60 million people. Wisconsin Watch has won dozens of national, regional and state awards.

The Center is primarily funded by grants from foundations and donations from individuals and corporations. Additional income is obtained through sponsorship of its events and activities, and earned income – payments for providing services such as fact-checking, collaborating with students, or producing investigative journalism projects.

More than 1,200 individuals, foundations, media organizations and other groups have contributed financially to the Center since 2009. We publish our annual reports, tax returns and audited financial statements on our website. As a matter of principle, funders have no control over the Centre’s drafting decisions, and all funders are publicly identified. To donate, please click here.

This article first appeared on WisconsinWatch.org and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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