1. Beyond Verification: Authenticity and the Spread of Misinformation

Fake news threatens democracy in Canada and globally3. The viral spread of misinformation impacts election results3, undermines trust in media sources and politicians, who accuse each other of spreading “fake news”4, and fosters conspiracy theories and general cynicism about institutions5. Social media has been targeted as the main source of fake news and its discourses6. Within a span of six years, Twitter, Facebook, and other platforms have moved from being lauded as inherently democratic technologies to being condemned as irresponsible media publishers2,7,8. The structure of the Internet itself undermines the efficacy of fact-checking; fact-checking sites always lag behind the deluge of rumors produced by misinformation sources. Additionally, verification alone is not enough to combat misinformation9. Fake news often reaches a different audience than corrections7; and, even if debunked stories reach the same audiences, they can backfire by sparking more interest in the fake news item, reinforcing opinions of those already suspicious of authority10-12. Further, users spread stories they find compelling or funny, regardless of their accuracy. Tellingly, the 2016 U.S. presidential election was both described as “the authenticity election” and as normalizing ‘fake news.’

The proposed research leveragse emerging technologies to combat fake news and benefit Canadians by developing new strategies for displacing fake news, in particular the structures and actions that foster junk content production and circulation. Fake news is not simply a question of content, but also of global data circulation, digital cultures, web-economies and industries, and user- and group-identity formation, context, and trust13. It works by weaving itself into the larger media environment and by provoking strong emotions14. Its force is tied to the everyday actions and sensibilities of users—to how they craft themselves as “brands” via social media platforms that also restrict their actions, and how they come to trust others online and off-line15,16, CV8. This research analyzes misinformation and authenticity within this broad environment.

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