How can we sort good information from bad? The last several years have seen an “implosion of trust” around the world in traditional institutions such as government and the media. Online news hasn’t been spared, especially in the wake of various “fake news” scandals, and people are particularly wary about social media.

The internet offers us all access to vast amounts of data. Potentially, we have all the world’s libraries at our fingertips. There were over a billion websites in the world and over three billion internet users in 2017. Yet what good is all the information if it can’t be trusted?

Debating Europe recently attended an event in Brussels about information in the digital age. The event, hosted by Google, focused on trust, diversity, and the future of internet search. We interviewed some of the participants on the topic of trust online. What would they say?

Curious to know more about trust in online content? We’ve put together some facts and figures in the infographic below (click for a bigger version).

What do our readers think? We had a comment from Wendy, who paints a pretty stark picture of democracy in the digital age. She believes everything online is “rigged”, and that “disinformation, shills and sockpuppets [are] everywhere”. Is she right? Has the internet broken democracy?

To get a reaction, we put Wendy’s comment to Nic Newman, Research Associate at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism. What would he say?
To get another perspective, we put the same comment to Sophie Nicholson, Social Media Editor at Agence France-Press (AFP). How would she respond to Wendy’s comment?

We also had a comment from Tom, who says the most important thing is that we all keep talking to one another and don’t get trapped in “echo chambers”. Is there anything search engines can do to help push people with different opinions out of their “filter bubbles” and get them talking to one another?

Finally, we put the same question to Ben Gomes, Vice President for Search Engineering at Google. What would he say?

How do you decide what you trust online? Has the internet broken democracy? And should search engines try to push people out of their “filter bubbles”? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!

IMAGE CREDITS: CC / Flickr – Fancycrave
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35 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar
    Ivan Burrows

    Read/watch as much as possible from both the left & right wing media and were the actually ‘claims’ match that is probably the truth & everything else is the authors bias so can be ignored.

  2. avatar
    Gábor Halász

    I double check through multiple sources, possibly from different segments of the political spectrum and if there’s an opportunity, I visit fact checking/fake news watching communities.

    Which is quite effective as it is, as long as getting informed goes, but a terribly time consuming activity. Such burden should be taken off of the consumer’s back.

    I like the freedom of internet as much as the next person, but sooner or later we have to realize that we have entered an Age of Information Crisis. We encounter way more data than what we can process and there’s no way to completely avoid false information. The options to report, hide suspicious content, or express negative opinion about them are still hidden compared to the options to give a positive feedback, resulting in a positive feedback bias. Moderation is also way too slow. It should be preemptive, not reactive, even if that means -horribile dictu- the employment of more people by the social media sites.

    If it was up to me, I’d also encourage an international rating system of sites and groups, based on how much they can be considered trustworthy, which would allow the users to get a hint on what they are supposed to expect from the content provided by a site.

    But in the end, I’m waiting for a time when-just as driving- the use of internet and especially social media will be bound to a license and a set of rules which represents full responsibility over what somebody shares with other people, and without which content creation and sharing can be sanctioned.

    Fake news, cyberbullying, health threatening trends and pseudo-science are claiming human lives, what is worse, many times they claim children’s lives, something has to be done about them.

  3. avatar
    William Banaeun

    discard everything that comes from a source too close to the EU or other governments. in a democracy you’re supposed to argue and let spoken and written language do its job. nowadays the EU regulates which thoughts cross which border. you have all the right to censor whatever you want, but lying about it ultimately results in people losing trust and hope. before you know it some bloke comes up with the ultimate solution of dismantling the government, leaving the civillians stranded in a failed society that was once glorious.

    im sad to say this, but i expect a visit from the thought police the next few days

  4. avatar
    EU Reform- Proactive

    “How can we sort good information from bad?”………

    Consider this: why not foster superior and independent judgments through advancing interest in more math and science education from early on? Take a read………….:

    It helps to escape attempts of religious, political & economic brainwashing and make belief in one only concept- championed by certain “possessed” groupings!

  5. avatar

    Any media connected to trans-atlantic partnership is fake news.
    If its pro EU or pro US I ignore it. All Cia influenced or bought to spread propaganda. Any media that presents the Russians like they are new the Nazis
    I ignore. Tough luck Soros, Bilderberg, and Le Cercle, and Neocons, your nonsense doesnt effect me.

  6. avatar
    John Costigane

    Both sides in the in the liberal/populist face-off have equal trust as sources of information. The liberal side is the establishment and its narrative is the primary source, reflected in the EU, and the Democrats in the USA. The opposition on both sides of the Atlantic have common cause, but in the EU this side lacks political clout. How can this be remedied?

    We need here the same political structure, a Federal Republic. Both left and right become established and the populace at large decides which leads within the confines of a written Constitution.

    This would be a big change. A transitional, elected President could work with the EU to drive the necessary change.

    This is not left or right propaganda but a holistic perspective to accommodate both within the political framework.

  7. avatar
    Sergiu Carlan

    It’s simple. You trust what confirms your beliefs, then test it using logic, empirical evidence and objective sources (not the self-proclaimed neutral ones which discredit the right without some empirical evidence).

  8. avatar

    Never trust people with flags in their profile pics or phantom profiles that have been created solely for purposes of commenting and publishing specific articles. Biased nationalists and propaganda merchants.

  9. avatar
    Aris Tselios

    you just read different articles about the same issue. Then by using your knowledge and logic, you understand which info is true and which not.
    For example the Syrian conflict. The Russian Media says that only the American jets bomb civilians by mistake, the Western Media says that only the Russian jets bomb civilians. So you easily understand that they both bomb civilians.

  10. avatar
    Tarquin Farquhar

    Always be suspicious of [and indeed verify] information by organisations supported by the EU, Russia, USA, China, Sorros and the like.

    Hmmm, I wonder if DE is financed by any of the aforementioned parties?

  11. avatar

    i dont…i usually over investigate…1st look for the finantial side of the information, who pays, 2nd look for who writes, their filliations and interests, 3rd look for the context of the news if it is something to inform or something to distract…

  12. avatar

    Its USA dominated and another area the EU is becoming a slave state. Our leaders are worried about time zones.

  13. avatar

    depends on the sources and if I know it from somewhere else already or how believable is seems to be. if it sounds too good to be true it is most likely so.

  14. avatar

    By controlling the media, you manipulate the people.
    Internet set the truth free.
    Ask yourself – who is attempting to control Internet, and you will find those who want to manipulate the people.

  15. avatar

    I think school and people have failed democracy.

    I see people having an opinion they know nothing about. Just copy pasting.
    For some reason people cannot accept that the world and always has been split into branches. And its those educative branches that will tell us whats happening from their field.

    Besides this the EU cannot defend itself because he politicians for in brussel and then blame brussel instead if themselves.
    And the media feasts on this. Its not just simply the internet.

    And i dont think that its just of this age.

    I mean even here there are anti EU fans.

  16. avatar

    Of couse not. But I see most of the so called Democrats and Leftists, against internet. All those who hate Dictatorships are pro internet.

    • avatar

      Maria – leftist I wouldn’t say so , most leftist media I know are relying heavily on internet or the are internet only without any printed pappers tv or radio broadcast 🤔🤔🤔🤔

    • avatar

      Maria leftist I wouldn’t say so , most leftist media I know are relying heavily on internet or the are internet only without any printed pappers tv or radio broadcast 🤔🤔🤔🤔

    • avatar

      Παυλος most leftists in internet, spread fakenews. They spread the Cultural Marxism. European and American Media are so much attached to Socialism.

  17. avatar

    Democracy is braking apart thanks to the heavily polarized populist political climate

  18. avatar

    Definitely no! The ignorance brakes the democracy.

  19. avatar

    I usually keep 2 things in mind: people in power want to keep control, and the medium citizen is moderate to strong, stupid. All that is out of the ordinary, I check with written laws first. than make an assessment of the source that had emitted it. And mostly, always read, keep your mind active, that way it’s not so easy to be fooled…unless you want to be.

  20. avatar

    It’s very simple. All real information must be related with statistics. Anything else is cheap propaganda.

  21. avatar

    The problem is, there is lack of trust with mainstream media also. There are respectable media outlets with biases and preferences or alignment with certain agendas. Some of these outlets leave out important information or just don’t report on what people want to know. People want the unedited truth and they are intelligent enough to form their own opinions based on that.

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