Two Pakistani academics win Facebook research grant to study misinformation

LAHORE: Two Pakistani academics from the Lahore University of Management Sciences, LUMS,  have won a research award to study misinformation (or “fake news”) in Pakistan. 

According to the official press release issued by LUMS,  Assistant Professor Economics Dr. Ayesha Ali and Associate Professor Computer Science have won the highly competitive Facebook Integrity Foundational Research Award worth $50,000 for their proposal, “Understanding the Impact of Digital Literacy on Misinformation in Pakistan”. The research proposal has been accepted among  21 projects selected by Facebook  from around the world under this award.

As part of their research project, the Pakistani academics will focus on the relationship between digital literacy and the spread of misinformation on social media platforms and evaluate potential solutions for countering misinformation through a randomised control trial.

Both Dr. Ayesha and Dr. Ihsan will also share the findings of their research during a workshop by Facebook in Menlo Park, California.

Commenting on the reasons for pursuing research on misinformation, Dr. Ayesha and Dr. Ihsan said, “The negative consequences of misinformation can be both substantial and highly varied ranging from interference in elections, amplifying ideological biases, and putting people in harm’s way (e.g., recent killing of people in India due to fake news on WhatsApp). We believe our research can play a positive role in advancing the understanding of factors associated with the spread of misinformation and some possible ways of countering it.”

Misinformation is one of the emerging issues on the digital media landscape.  Concerns have been raised on the role social platforms play in aiding the spread of false information. Recently, the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression David Kaye noted in his exclusive interview to Digital Rights Monitor that governments were the biggest perpetrators of disinformation. He also added, “in my own country, the United States, the worst perpetrator of false information is the President of the United States.”

After concerns were raised on the role Facebook allegedly played in facilitating the spread of misinformation, the company has been investing in projects to remove misinformation from its platform and raise awareness about it. In July 2018, it partnered with independent fact checkers and Pakistani civil society organizations ahead of elections to run an awareness campaign against misinformation and counter it.

The new government in Pakistan has been very vocal about rising instances of misinformation. In October, 2018, the government also launched a twitter handle titled “Fake News Buster MOIB” to counter misinformation spreading on social media against the government. In November, while meeting the visiting Facebook delegation, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan urged them to put in place “a robust mechanism to effectively check misuse of social media in spreading fake news, violence and hate content.”



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