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Hard News: Journalist and the Threat of Disinformation

April 14, 2022

Professional journalists, editors, and news organizations that provide credible reporting and promote informed civic engagement stand as a bulwark against the onslaught of disinformation being injected into public discourse. It is from their newspapers, websites, and broadcasters that communities can expect to access reliable information and understand the debates that shape their societies. Journalists have long been tasked with holding public officials to account, thwarting obfuscation by those with political or economic power, and probing for the facts. Never before, however, have they had to do so in the face of such an extreme surge of falsehoods and manipulations supercharged by algorithms and nefarious actors, and at a time when their news outlets are struggling for survival with starkly depleted resources.In a nationwide survey, PEN America asked reporters and editors from local, regional, and national outlets how working amid floods of disinformation—content created or distributed with intent to deceive—is altering their profession, their relationships with their sources and audiences, and their lives. Responses from more than 1,000 U.S. journalists reveal that disinformation is significantly changing the practice of journalism, disrupting newsroom processes, draining the attention of editors and reporters, demanding new procedures and skills, jeopardizing community trust in journalism, and diminishing journalists' professional, emotional, and physical security. Journalists told PEN America how worried they are about the impact of disinformation on their work, the time and effort it takes to keep from inadvertently spreading falsehoods—and how underequipped they and their newsrooms are to effectively counter the torrents of untruths that threaten a free press's critical role in our democratic process. Only 18 percent of the reporters and editors responding said they were being offered sufficient professional development support on how to detect and report on disinformation.

Commission on Information Disorder Final Report

November 15, 2021

America is in a crisis of trust and truth. Bad information has become as prevalent, persuasive, and persistent as good information, creating a chain reaction of harm. It makes any health crisis more deadly. It slows down response time on climate change. It undermines democracy.The Aspen Institute's Commission on Information Disorder was created to address these conditions. Co-chaired by award-winning journalist Katie Couric, cybersecurity expert Chris Krebs, and civil rights leader Rashad Robinson, the Commission is composed of a diverse group from across the political spectrum, representing academia, government, philanthropy, and civil society. Over the course of six months, commissioners held internal discussions and heard from experts, community leaders, academics, researchers, tech industry representatives, and lawmakers to understand and explore the multidimensional attributes of information disorder.The Commission's Final Report is the culmination of that in-depth investigation. Offering a viable framework for action, it makes 15 recommendations for how government, private industry, and civil society can help to increase transparency and understanding, build trust, and reduce harms.

Fueling the Fire: How Social Media Intensifies U.S. Political Polarization — And What Can Be Done About It

September 9, 2021

This report analyzes the evidence bearing on social media's role in polarization, assesses the effects of severe divisiveness, and recommends steps the government and the social media industry can take to ameliorate the problem. We conclude that Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are not the original or main cause of rising U.S. political polarization, a phenomenon that long predates the social media industry. But use of those platforms intensifies divisiveness and thus contributes to its corrosive consequences. This conclusion is bolstered by a close reading of the social science literature, interviews with sociologists and political scientists who have published studies in this area, and Facebook's own pattern of internally researching the polarization problem and periodically adjusting its algorithms to reduce the flow of content likely to stoke political extremism and hatred.

Reversing the Tide: Towards a New US Strategy to Support Democracy and Counter Authoritarianism

April 14, 2021

The rise of authoritarianism, coupled with the erosion of democracy, threatens global stability, America's economic and security alliances, and respect for human dignity. In each of the last 15 consecutive years, abuses of human rights and assaults on core democratic institutions and practices have accelerated around the globe.1 This alarming confluence requires an urgent, bold, generational response that places support for democracy and countering authoritarianism at the heart of our foreign policy and national security strategy. US leadership in defending established democracies, supporting nascent democracies, and challenging autocrats—while putting our own house in better order—will necessitate a reordering of priorities, plans, and budgets. This report is both a call to action for US leadership and a roadmap for a practical, bipartisan path forward, providing suggesting seven strategies on how to support democracy and counter authoritarianism.

Teens and the News : The Influencers, Celebrities, and Platforms They Say Matter Most

October 29, 2020

This report presents the results of a survey of more than 800 U.S. 13- to 18-year-olds. The survey covers the kinds of news sources that teens use, how frequently they engage with those sources, and their feelings about the news. The data is presented for younger (13- to 15-year-old) and older (16- to 18-year-old) teens, in addition to being analyzed by gender, race/ethnicity, and political ideology.The report also tracks changes in teens' news behaviors and attitudes between 2017 and 2020, comparing the current results to those found in the first wave of the study. The report used a separate sample of respondents, with the text and format of the current questionnaire staying as close as possible to the previous one (allowing for some modest changes to reflect the changing news environment).