The rise of fake news online has emphasised the need for critical thinking and critical analysis, with new pressures on social media companies and everyday citizens to fact-check information online.
Research by Ofcom analysing yearly news consumption in the UK highlighted that in 2019 49% of people who have social media accounts use them to be informed with news updates.
When examining how people rated the quality, accuracy, trustworthiness and impartiality of the news they consumed, news on social media 'tend to be lower for the majority' when compared with other news platforms.
Discussing the impacts that citizen science can have on developing critical perspectives and trust in news, Dr Christothea Herodotou, Project Lead of the nQuire citizen science project, clarified the impacts that scientific inquiry can have within society. Dr Christothea Herodotou stated:
“With Nquire we ask people to do things, which involves hands-on, active learning experiences.”
“Research shows being hands-on is the most immersive way which people learn, and in addition to learning the tools of scientific inquiry, participants compare their findings with what other people are doing”, Dr Christothea Herodotou added, referring to two citizen science missions which have gained national exposure for their engagement; researching Climate Change and Heatwaves.
By participating in missions on nQuire which investigate scientific and social questions, Dr Herodotou wants people to use analysis and investigation skills when engaging with news on social media. Adding further:
“The value would be for the average citizen to be a bit more critical about what they hear in the news, or what people are sharing around them on social media.”
“As we know, some stories which generate traction on social media manipulate outcomes of research to represent something which may not be true. Engagement and participation in scientific activities can help develop a kind of reflection or critical engagement with what can be seen on social media."
“Not just sharing their view, but comparing their view to others, which involves an element of peer learning. These unique ways of learning are not found on many other platforms.”
Dr Herodotou added, “BBC and BBC Breakfast has a certain demographic. The Young Foundation, who we work with, have a different demographic. If we expand the [nQuire] platform and do more collaborations with diverse organisations, then we will reach a more diverse audience with citizen science."
"What we would hope is that by taking part in multiple studies in nQuire, citizens would become familiar with the steps which are taken to conduct research."
"What social media platforms are doing in terms of flagging posts which include information which may not be necessarily true is beneficial in terms of supporting critical inquiry, because if a post comes up on a timeline and is flagged for a particular reason it can make the person seeing it question if the information is true or not", Dr Herodotou closed.
To learn more about citizen science visit the nQuire website and explore new social and scientific missions. If you want to learn more about engaging citizen science in your workplace, contact our experts.