The study presented in this short monograph began in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. The authors received an avalanche of misinformation through social media and personal messages from friends and relatives. The idea, initially, was to create a simple checklist for social media users to screen content received to help filter out misinformation.
Online social media has brought together billions of people from around the world. The impact of diverse platforms such as Facebook, WeChat, Reddit, LinkedIn, Signal, WhatsApp, Gab, Instagram, Telegraph etc. has been transformational. The number of active users of the six most popular online social networks combined is estimated at about 10 billion. The internet is a place where online written content can be created, consumed and diffused without any real intermediary. This empowering aspect of the Web is generally a force for good: people, on the whole, are better informed and participation in online discussion is more inclusive (barriers to participation are reduced). As online activity has grown, however, research has revealed a darker side to online social media and its ability to influence behaviour negatively in the real world.
Central to this monograph is information quantity theory brilliantly espoused by Claude Shannon (father of the information age) balanced by an approach to information quality, that we created, inspired by Ludwig Wittgenstein.
We propose a framework for online misinformation analysis and provide a tentative online information quality theory. The concept of “algorithmic choice” for the rating and ranking of content for social media users is endorsed as a way forward.
We also introduce our two new concepts: “non-information” and “off-information” which we believe should be useful categories for labeling certain problematic content found online (in addition to the general categories of “misinformation”, “disinformation” and “malinformation”).
In the appendix of this monograph, we present the results of an online questionnaire administered to 81 social media users. The survey explored social media users’ perception of the quality of information online and attitudes towards fact-checking and the forwarding of online content to other users. Nearly all respondents use online social media every day (95%) and only 5% rarely use it. About half of the respondents (53%) indicated that they would read content labeled by an independent analyst as ‘high quality’, a majority (70%) would forward or consider forwarding such content to others. If they encountered content labelled as ‘low quality’, 63% of respondents would not forward such content to others.