Class_BurgondyFIMS 9328 Special Topic:  MISINFORMATION & VIRAL DECEPTION

Course website:
(under construction; will be accessible to enrolled students)

Location: University of Western Ontario, London, CANADA

First offered in Winter 2019.

Course Objectives:

1. identify, select, acquire, organize, describe and provide access to digital information (MLIS program level learning outcome 6);
2. identify the needs of particular groups and develop digital collections and services to meet these needs (MLIS program level learning outcome 8);
3. employ appropriate technologies in digital library applications (MLIS program level learning outcome 4).

Course Description:

Foundations of credibility assessment and information quality verification. Philosophical and psychological underpinnings of deceptive behaviors. Information manipulation by digital environment type (fudging, forging, spamming, trolling), format (image- or text-based), domain (communication, news provision, information organization). Best prevention guidelines for digital/off-line environments. Technological advancements in lie detection and information verification.

Problem Statement:

Recent controversies over “fake news” and concerns over entering a “post-truth” era, highlighted the need for deeper understanding of the problematical information that circulates in contemporary technologically-mediated environments. Such information may be inaccurate, misleading, inappropriately attributed, or altogether fabricated and it has a potential to disrupt politics, business, and culture (Jack, 2017). Everyday life decision-making, behavior, and mood are influenced by the quality of information we receive. When professional analysts sift through the news, their future forecasts, fact and pattern discovery depend on veracity of the information in knowledge management and curation areas. It is critical to distinguish truthful, credible information from deceptively manipulated one. Few verification mechanisms currently exist, and the sheer volume of the information requires systematic guidelines and novel technological approaches (Rubin, Chen, & Conroy, 2015)

This course will discuss deception, as a deliberate effort to create false beliefs or conclusions, in contrast with other closely related phenomena such as misinformation (Fox, 1983) and disinformation. While both terms refer to misleading infor­mation, misinformation is usually used to imply no deliberate intent to mislead, while disinformation implies knowing deception.

The significance of the course material to the information professional is four-fold:
1) Analytical methods complement and enhance the notoriously poor human ability to discern information from misinformation.
2) Credibility assessment of digital sources will be addressed.
3) Metrics of information quality assessment will be discussed.
4) The mere awareness of potential digital deception constitutes part of new media literacy and can prevent undesirable consequences.

Course Content (Subject to Change and Refinement):

  • Introduction to misinformation, deception and information manipulation.
  • Philosophical and ethical foundation of morality. Information quality.
  • Psychological basics of deceptive and deviant behaviors.
  • Deception in computer-mediate environments.
  • Credibility assessments in law enforcement and related information policies.
  • Digital environments specificity (“fake news” controversy, fake social network and dating profiles, fudged online resumes, fake product reviews, “butler lies” in texting, “gaslighting”, spam and phishing, astroturfing and “xuanchuan”, i.e., flooding conversational spaces with positive messages or attempts to change the subject).
  • Organizational concerns (forged science and misinterpretation of data).
  • Case studies from broad selections of disciplines (politics, civics, health insurances, etc.)
  • Methodological advancements in prevention, detection and deterrence.
  • Text analytics for information verification.
  • Best practices, guidelines, workflows and polices.
  • Special cases: practitioners in education, libraries, news production, law enforcement.

Methods of Evaluation (Subject to Change and Refinement)::

  1. Critical analysis short paper (10%)
  2. In-class presentation (10%)
  3. Case study paper (15%)
  4. Suggested guidelines for content verification strategies (15%)
  5. Poster presentation (15%)
  6. Final paper (25%)
  7. Participation (10%)

Sample Readings/References:

Fox, Christopher (1983). Information and Misinformation. An Investigation of the Notions of Information, Misinformation, Informing, and Misinforming. Greenwood Publishing Group.

Levine, Timothy R., ed. (2014) Encyclopedia of Deception. Los Angeles, Sage Reference.

Rubin, Victoria L.; Chen, Yimin; Conroy, Nadia J. (2015) Deception Detection for News: Three Types of Fakes. Proceedings of the Association for Information Science and Technology, Vol. 52.

Jack, Caroline (2017). Lexicon of Lies: Terms for Problematic Information. Data&Society.