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Knowledge Mobilizers: Dispelling the power of fake news through mainstream media

May 12, 2021
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Knowledge Mobilizers is a story series from the Knowledge Mobilization Hub that highlights knowledge mobilization (KM) projects around the university. At SFU, KM is about collaborating on, and exchanging, research discoveries to create a positive impact in our far-reaching communities.

By Lupin Battersby

SFU researchers have been in the media a lot lately, sharing their expertise on current and compelling events such as COVID-19, the climate crisis, and politics. All potentially controversial topics that can lead to challenges, critiques, and personal attacks. However, SFU experts continue to persevere and engage with the media to share their research and expertise and address misinformation.

In a recent conversation with fake news researcher Ahmed Al-Rawi, a professor in SFU’s School of Communication and lead of The Disinformation Project, we discussed the motivation, strategies, and value of pushing through these challenges. For Al-Rawi he is motivated by a desire to “reach further, and be useful.”

Ahmed Al-Rawi

Al-Rawi started his academic journey after first working in media as a communications officer and radio correspondent. He was driven to research by curiosity and the desire to explore controversial issues such as fake news discourses in social media or how ‘bots’ influence or interfere with elections. He sees research as a foundation from which to engage the wider public on new ideas. He shares his research publicly to inform the public and encourage them to think and reflect yet not to get them to think in a particular way.

This goal aligns well with his primary knowledge mobilization strategy, media engagement. As an academic engaging with the media, Al-Rawi relies on both his previous experience which has taught him to cultivate relationships with members of the media, respond quickly to requests, prepare key points prior to interviews and avoid responding to trolls.

He is also “learning as he goes” on how best to share research findings through this channel. Currently he is exploring if peer review publication prior to media engagement provides a more solid basis from which to engage a public audience.

Al-Rawi shared that the benefits of doing knowledge mobilization is seeing people engage with ideas in new ways, seeing that he has sometimes inspired critical thinking. He believes we need to “use our knowledge in order to be as useful as possible to the public and students. It’s good for us, it’s good for our students, it’s good for our university and it’s good for the province.”

He also acknowledges that there are many ways to do knowledge mobilization other than through the media. The media is a familiar method for him, but others might be more comfortable using art, sound, dialogue, or video. An interesting challenge in knowledge mobilization is using evidence-informed approaches while also working within one’s own skilled sets, values, capacities and available resources.

Al-Rawi in the media:

To learn more about how to strike a good balance in your knowledge mobilization work connect with the SFU Knowledge Mobilization Hub. And to learn more about engaging with the media and responding effectively to the opportunities and challenges reach out to your faculty communicators, SFU media relations, and read this LSE blog post for practical tips.