Antonello Bocchino speaks on journalism and fake news at the University of Ferrara

12th July 2017

Much fake news concerns science. An increasing demand for scientific information from the general public – explain the directors of the Masters Programme, Marco Bresadola and Michele Fabbri – is not met by journalists with appropriate scientific culture and knowledge of the functioning of the media ecosystem.

The purpose of the conference was to develop awareness about how the media, especially the Internet and social networks, transmit scientific information, in order to learn a method that helps distinguish real science from fake.

The conference, organized for credit by the Masters in “Journalism and Institutional Communication of Science” and by “Design of Science” – a workshop of History and Science Communication at the University of Ferrara, is also accredited for professional journalists.

In the first part of the conference Antonello focused on two aspects. First, considering news as an artefact of the middle class in the 18th century (Park, 1940; Carey, 1989), Antonello theorised that the crisis of journalism correlated to the ongoing middle class crisis (Lagarde, 2017), may elucidate why journalism, the fourth estate, was not able to counter evident post-truths in influencing public opinion. Secondly, finding an explanation as to why fake news have become viral, Antonello’s presentation proposed ‘filter bubbles’ (Pariser, 2011), and ‘echo chambers’ (Del Vicario et al., 2016) as spreading instruments for the ‘sharing industries’ (Meikle, 2016) like social media. This industrial system constantly invites social media users to produce any form of activity and popular culture on digital platforms, to profit from the increasing ‘sharing’ of personal data of social media producers and consumers, with marketers. In the second part of the conference, drawing from a case study of a paper delivered at the European Sociological Association conference in Prague in 2015: ‘Medical research and scientific publications driven by vested interests?’, Antonello theorised a connection between pharmaceutical interests and three of the main actors influencing the health system policy, i.e. doctors, medical journals and patients’ association. These actors unilaterally and at times unfairly determine what constitutes real science; science communicators and myths debunker websites like ‘Snopes’, the latter used by Facebook as an ‘independent Fact-Checker’ to distinguish news from fake news, do not have the in-depth analytical skills to conduct independent science fact checking, relying instead on what the organised health actors decide.

Carey, J. (2009). Communication as Culture, New York: Routledge.
Del Vicario, M. et al. (2016). ‘The spreading of misinformation online’. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 113 no. 3, pp. 554–559
Lagarde, C. (2017). ‘The Crisis of the Middle Class: Davos Panel’. January 18.  <https://www.bloomberg.com/news/videos/2017-01-18/the-crisis-of-the-middle-class-davos-panel> accessed 7 June 2017.
Meikle, G., (2016). Social Media. Communication, Sharing and Visibility, London: Routledge.
Pariser, E. (2011). The Filter Bubble. What the Internet Is Hiding from You. New York: The Penguin Press.
Park, R. E., (1940) ‘News as a Form of Knowledge: A Chapter in the Sociology of Knowledge’. The American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 45, No. 5 (Mar., 1940), pp. 669-686 < http://www.jstor.org/stable/2770043>

Biographical note.

Antonello is currently a Visiting Lecturer and PhD candidate at the University of Westminster in London and a member of its Centre for Social Media Research (CSMR) of the Communication and Media Research Institute (CAMRI). Most recently, he has given lectures in Italy related to social media at the faculty of Political Science of the University of Siena and for the Masters in ‘Journalism and Institutional Communication of Science’ at the University of Ferrara. His professional engagement with the internet started with his participation in the innovative Netmagazine/Magnet in 1996, Italy’s first online magazine (1994), still cited as a significant innovator in interface design. Since graduating from the University of Bologna with a Master’s Degree in New Media, Antonello has lived and worked in several countries, most recently Cairo where after the Arab Spring he was a journalist and presenter for Egyptian State Radio and Television, and coordinator of social media strategy for the Italian Institute of Culture.

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