Paul Slovic, Tim Sellnow, Bobi Ivanoc
September 2017 to August 2018
In recent years, we have seen a marked increase in strident and divisive public discourse on a range of important issues including climate change, healthcare, wealth distribution and national security. This discourse has not helped the public become better citizens nor has it assisted policy makers and elected officials to implement policies or govern. Trust in experts and institutions whose responsibility it is to determine and implement policy or propose and enact law is dangerously low. We are awash in information but are losing ground in our ability to separate fact from opinion. This is in part due to the sheer volume of information that comes at us during a 24/7 news cycle and the many conversations we have over social media. More troubling is the possibility that it is also due to a growing tendency to lift out of context those facts that support our opinions or serve our agenda. This stands in stark contrast to a careful weighing of the merits of our opinions against an agreed upon set of facts. This project will begin with a review of research that describes what is meant by an erosion of truth in public discourse with a focus on the special case of fake news. It will outline the implications of fake news for public trust in institutions, policy making and governance. Inoculating messages designed to facilitate resistance to fake news based on disinformation will be pre-tested. If this effort proves promising a longitudinal communication experiment will be conducted that looks more closely at the efficacy of using inoculating communication to help the public resist fake news. Based on a review of the inoculation literature and the specific findings of the communication pre-testing and/or experiment, recommendations will be made for training in the use of inoculation theory in a communication strategy.