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How Open Access is Fighting Misinformation

At MDPI, a number of articles are available in journals such as Entropy, Applied Sciences, and Vaccines that seek to analyze misinformation, colloquially referred to as ‘fake news’.

These articles relate to how misinformation circulates, why it is widely accepted, and the impact this has had across the world. The interest in ‘fake news’ within these journals speaks to its complexity as a social and scientific phenomenon.

Here, we look at some of the research related to belief systems and the psyche, deepfake multimedia, and misinformation and healthcare.

What is Fake News?

Fake news as a term is used in various ways today. Generally, it describes misleading information that is presented as factual. It can be spread intentionally or unintentionally. And it sometimes has a predetermined motive at its core. The motives range from spreading uncertainty about a topic to simply making money through marketing.

In recent years, fake news has realigned our collective perception of knowledge. Skepticism about the integrity of traditionally trustworthy sources of information, such as large media platforms, has increased. Many fringe ideologies, which often have little grounding in facts, have made their way into mainstream discourse as of late. Fringe ideologies are those that depart from the mainstream, and the spread of misinformation is a pivotal tool for their proliferation.

The many motivations driving the spread of fake news mean that it is continuously distributed. With improved access to new technologies, the number of platforms for its distribution will only increase. This makes it more difficult to comb through what is and isn’t factual. And the confusion introduced by unreliable sources makes for an environment where misinformation can easily spread.

Why Open Access?

The rising issues of misinformation and susceptibility to its circulation make open access platforms all the more important. Accessible, peer-reviewed information is essential because it ensures that everyone is considered in knowledge dissemination. By providing research and counterpoints to misinformation, we can help to curb its proliferation.

As an open access platform, MDPI ensures that peer-reviewed information is just a click away for anybody undertaking research on a personal, institutional, or community level. It’s important to ensure accessibility to academic research. Restricting information within journals is detrimental to the enrichment of our collective knowledge. It can also limit the trust placed in knowledge production. Given the prevalence of ‘fake news’, open access resources and the accessibility they provide are essential.

Some of the important ways in which misinformation has been explored in our journals are highlighted below.

Belief Systems and the Psyche

The research paper “Opinion Polarization in Human Communities Can Emerge as a Natural Consequence of Beliefs Being Interrelated” in the journal Entropy discusses the modeling of information processing in relation to cognitive dissonance.

Cognitive dissonance is a psychological experience we undergo when faced with information that conflicts with not just our pre-held beliefs, but our system of beliefs as individuals. Cognitive dissonance is something we seek to avoid at all costs. We tend to adopt different mechanisms to ensure we eliminate this form of discomfort. It is relevant to the issue of fake news because it can help us to understand why we become susceptible to misinformation.

In their article, the authors note:

“These cognitive dissonance avoiding mechanisms are in close relation with the proliferation of fake news and the circulation of various types of questionable information.”

They elaborate on this issue within their modeling. Their interest lies in what happens after introducing different ‘nodes’ (ideas or pieces of information) into an ‘agent’s’ (an individual’s) belief system. The article is particularly interesting for the way it models a person’s reasoning. It also provides insight into how we treat information that strengthens or detracts from the way we understand the world.

The authors investigate how cognitive dissonance feeds into the acceptance of misinformation by individuals. This information might be related to political, religious, or other ideologies held by individuals or communities. Nonetheless, it is important to know how and why the spread of misinformation exists in the relationship between the individual and the widely accessible platforms we use today.

By understanding and attempting to decipher this issue, we can protect ourselves against it. Hence, innovative and continuous research like this is very important.

Deepfake Multimedia

Misinformation can be spread in many different ways. It’s not only words on a screen that can introduce doubts and confusion. The rise of ‘deepfake’ technology has added to the list of things to look out for when browsing the web.

In their article “Exposing Manipulated Photos and Videos in Digital Forensics Analysis”, the authors present technologies being made available to detect deepfake multimedia. Now that image-editing technology is widely available through smartphones and software, ways to detect image manipulation are urgently needed.

This study draws attention to an issue prevalent across many platforms. Intelligent systems are used to differentiate between original and doctored media, which cybercriminals can produce using the same technologies. Writing in 2021, the authors note:

Defacing and deepfakes take advantage of multimedia content manipulation techniques to tamper digital photos and videos. They can inflict severe reputational and other kinds of damages on their victims.

It’s useful to appreciate how sophisticated and impactful this method of spreading fake news is. Witnessing people and objects in motion complicates the common idiom of ‘seeing is believing’. Generally, we’re prone to believing something has happened if we can see proof with our own eyes. However, for this age-old metric of truth, deepfake technology presents a cataclysmic shift that requires in-depth study, which MDPI journals such as Journal of Imaging provide.

Fake News and Healthcare

With the emergence of a healthcare crisis in 2019, misinformation about COVID-19 as a daunting and little-understood disease began to spread.

The pandemic led to an unprecedented and rapid shift in the management of healthcare in countries. Many policies were implemented and trialed to this end, both temporary and long-term. Alongside the emergence of this novel disease, an enormous amount of related information was circulated on social media platforms.

Misinformation about its origins, treatment and even existence emerged. Misleading ideas about the recent pandemic reflect the mistrust that develops when veritable, peer-reviewed research is subject to restricted access.

In one of the articles in Vaccines related to vaccine hesitancy, the authors state the following:

“A reliance on social media as the main source of information about COVID-19 vaccines was associated with vaccine hesitancy. This should alert governments, policy makers and the general public to the importance of vigilant fact checking.”

And, according to the research, this seems to be an issue across many related healthcare topics. The authors highlight a key action in mitigating the spread of fake news, which is the need to verify sources of information. There’s a long way to go before we can collectively develop effective ways to curb the spread of misinformation. However, this task is not insurmountable.

Research Matters

The mentioned articles are just some examples of MDPI’s commitment to providing research related to innovative technologies. When new technologies or global crises emerge, it’s reassuring to know that open access research can make these issues more understandable.

The real-world implications of misinformation can be seen all around us. With peer review upholding the integrity of the research we publish, open access as a mode of delivery means we can make our journals available to the general public.

By providing the ability to freely access research, stats, and data, the barriers between academia and wider society can be removed. Barriers to research can cause people to feel alienated and suspicious of the information held behind them. Open access platforms instead invite people to engage with peer-reviewed academic research.

Freely available research is important because it means anybody can learn about the ways they might be manipulated on the internet. As such, accessibility is one of the most important steps to re-establishing the truth and the many reliable ways in which we seek it. Working together, and by supporting innovative research on open access platforms, we can continue to provide high-quality resources that are accessible to us all.

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