Exploring news trust and COVID-19 information quality

La Trobe University congratulates Dr Andrea Carson and her team on winning a highly competitive research grant from Facebook.

This important new research, funded by a Facebook global grant will focus on misinformation and polarization. The title of the grant, How fact checkers compare: News trust and COVID-19 information quality, reflects how this work will distinguish itself from others in this field.

“We’re looking at the role of the fact checker in misinformation on COVID across different countries,” Dr Carson said. “There are different types of studies in this space, but not many that focus on the public’s different perceptions of different fact-checkers.”

In Australia, prominent fact checkers include Australian Associated Press, Agence France-Presse, and a fact-checking partnership between RMIT and the ABC.

It’s fortunate that in the Australian environment, Dr Carson notes, we benefit from a ‘heterogenous’ news diet. Because of this, we have an opportunity to see where misinformation might be being called out, or where perceived facts might be false.

Fact checkers may help establish trust between the audience and news media. Dr Carson’s research team will delve into key questions:

  • What tools need to be in place to help people determine fact from fiction?
  • What credibility do fact checkers have?
  • Do all of these efforts help build trust in media reporting?

Facebook’s request for grant proposals attracted submissions from 288 universities and institutes around the world. Only 19 proposals were awarded funds, covering research in 21 countries.

Dr Carson leads an academic team featuring Dr James Meese (algorithmic responses, media law and policy, RMIT), Dr Justin B. Phillips (political science, The University of Waikato), and Dr Leah Ruppanner (family, gender, public policy, and quantitative methods, the University of Melbourne).

“Bringing those people together to do this grant is pretty exciting, as is having Australia represented in these grants. It’s going to be a team effort. We’ll be relying on everyone’s expertise that to this point in time hasn’t been done before,” Dr Carson said.

At the conclusion of the research project, Dr Carson and her team will travel to California to present their findings at Facebook’s headquarters. She hopes the research stemming from the grant will empower news media to communicate more effectively with their audience.

“Hopefully it will guide the digital platforms and fact checkers on how to best present factual information so that it has salience and credibility with the audience.”

About Associate Professor Andrea Carson

Dr Carson’s research focuses on gender, politics and the media. She has authored numerous books and articles on Australian politics, election campaigns and female representation in politics and was recently award Australian Research Council (2020) funding to study the pathways to politics for Australian women in local government.

Dr Carson is an inaugural council member of the Victorian Government’s Equal Workplace Advisory Council that advises government on achieving gender equity in the workplace. Prior to academia, she was a professional journalist at The Age and ABC. In her current role she appears regularly as a News Therapy guest on ABC Drive (Melbourne) with Rafael Epstein.