‘Science Friday’ tackles misinformation with socially shareable resources

Public radio show “Science Friday” today launched a campaign on its social media channels to combat misinformation.

During the campaign, staff are sharing a collection of fact-based audiograms, fact cards and social videos about scientific topics of climate change, genetically modified organisms and vaccines. Each week, for the next three weeks, they’ll focus on one topic and promote each topical resource two to three times throughout the week. This week’s topic is climate change.

The RJI Fellowship project was inspired after a public radio show staff member published a “How to talk to climate change-deniers” article with tweetable tips. The audience asked for more resources like this to use in conversations with their friends and family who are skeptical of these controversial topics.

“Science Friday” enlisted the help of University of Missouri journalism students to create the resources during the fall 2017 semester.

I interviewed Christian Skotte, co-director and head of digital at Science Friday.

Some of the resources, particularly the fact cards, don’t have much information on them.  Will people be able to find out more information by clicking on the resources?

Skotte: For each of the facts cards we wanted the cards to just be a simple fact. Then we provide the context through a tweet or a Facebook post. For each week, we’ll have a piece on our website that has links to all the studies if people want to learn more. Some of it will link to “Science Friday” media, and some of it will be government sources. Although it’s a little oxymoronic, we found out from our research that people want to get quick facts. That’s the best way to get people’s attention. But you have to back that up with credibility and provide links to your sources.

When will you begin testing the effectiveness of the resources?

Skotte: We’re sending out a survey now to all of our fans who have asked for these resources. We want to find out, “Have you ever had conversations with your family before [about these topics]? How did it work? What did you use?”

A few of those people we’ve asked for their names and addresses, and we’ll do follow-up interviews with them just to see “did the resources work?” And then after they’re all out we’ll send another survey to our audience asking them “Did you use any of these resources?”

One goal of this project is to create templates so other news organizations could create similar resources to post on social media. What initial advice would you have for other news organizations now that these resources are created?

Skotte: One of the things I learned as part of this project: It’s hard. One of the reasons it’s hard and one of the reasons I become more skeptical of some of the fact-checking projects that are in the works now across the industry is that facts change, especially in the sciences. I am a little skeptical of some of the projects where they’re like “We’re just going to automate fact checking.” Someone needs to be there making sure that the facts are all up to date.

One of the things we struggled with, especially around GMOs, was finding things in the “Science Friday” archive that were as factual today as they were 10 or 15 years ago.

At the dawn of conversations about GMOs, we did a lot of stories about genetically modified organisms that were very explanatory. But all of that is 10 years old and that industry has moved so fast the general explanatory stuff that would be great to grab pull quotes and audiograms from were not the most up to date anymore. What we have now, in terms of genetic modification, is stuff that’s all up to date and very specific and it’s cutting-edge, but it’s not as explanatory to a lay audience probably because it’s a little bit in the weeds of the specifics.

We just had to work harder to find that stuff. We did find it, but it was not as easy to get material as it was with the other two topics.

Any idea which of the resources might do a better job of educating folks or prove to be more popular with your audiences?

Skotte: I have a hypothesis that as we start to send these out and start to see what is popular or not popular, my guess is what’s going to be most popular are the fact cards. Even though at first glance they don’t have much context to them, I think those are the things that are most shareable and people will take what we write that gives them context with their own information or context around it. I think those will be the most shareable because they’ll be the easiest to interact with.

We kind of have these three levels. With the fact card, you just kind of read it quickly and you get all the information. With the audiogram, you actually have to listen to it, which means you have to have your audio on or you have to read along with it, which takes a little bit more engagement. With the video, you have to listen to it, watch it and pay a little more attention to it because it’s visual and takes a little bit more engagement.

My hypothesis is that the fact cards will spread the furthest. Maybe the videos or audiograms will do a better job of helping to educate people, but I won’t know that until we get our results back.


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