There’s an old saying that a lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still lacing up its boots. In today’s digital world, that is increasingly the case. Misinformation is now exponentially faster to produce and distribute than ever before, says Matthew Baum, the Marvin Kalb Professor of Global Communications at Harvard Kennedy School.

“The emergence of digital media, the reduction of production costs, the globalization of media, and the rise of certain social media platforms have made it much easier to distribute it much more rapidly,” Baum says.

Yet while many activists, journalists, and scholars have been raising the alarm lately about fake news and deep fakes and their effect on democracy and civil society, much of the discussion has been based on “conjecture” rather than rigorous research, Baum says.

To address that, Baum and colleagues at the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy decided, have created the Harvard Kennedy School Misinformation Review. The new digital journal, which went live Tuesday, has several features that make it distinctive from most peer-reviewed scholarly journals.

The first is speed. The new journal will accept rolling submissions and strive to take articles from submission to publication in about a month—much faster than most peer-reviewed journals, Baum says. The usual process, which can take anywhere from six months to two years, is far too slow for the fast-moving world of digital information dysfunction.

“By the time research would come out it would often be obsolete,” Baum says. The Shorenstein Center has taken several steps to speed up the review and publication process, including recruiting and training a cohort of more than 100 reviewers and developing templates for authors to help standardize their submissions.

The new journal will also aim for a wide audience and will be edited to appeal to both scholars and non-academics, including policymakers, journalists, and people working in fields that are most affected by misinformation, such as public health. The Misinformation Review's editorial board includes more than 40 misinformation experts from universities and institutes including Harvard, MIT, Stanford, and Microsoft Research.

“The Misinformation Review fills a need in the academic, journalistic, and public policy communities for reliable new research on misinformation and its effects on our information landscape,” says Nancy Gibbs, director of the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, Visiting Edward R. Murrow Professor of Practice at Harvard Kennedy School. “Its innovative ‘fast review’ model means that up-to-the-moment research will quickly get to those who need it most, through a process that ensures quality and academic rigor.” 

The Misinformation Review editorial team includes Baum as principal investigator and co-editor with Joan Donovan, adjunct lecturer in public policy and the director of the Shorenstein Center’s Technology and Social Change Research Project, as co-editor. The chief editor is Shorenstein postdoctoral scholar Irene Pasquetto, who will remain in the post after assuming an assistant professorship at the University of Michigan’s School of Information in the fall. Costanza Sciubba Caniglia MPA 2019 is the journal’s managing editor.

A final key difference between the new review and other journals, Baum says, is its multidisciplinary nature. Research submissions will be sought from scholars and researchers across the sciences and humanities, including but not limited to political scientists, psychologists, economists, computer scientists, historians, and scholars of media and communications.

Articles in the first issue include an analysis of a disinformation campaign targeting Syria’s White Helmets; an examination of how trust in traditional media versus social media affects acceptance of anti-vaccination claims; and a look at how widely Russian Twitter disinformation campaigns have reached across the American political spectrum.

“Given the nature of the problem, you need collaboration across disciplines. Most academic journals are not structured to facilitate that,” Baum says. “Our hope is that this becomes a clearing house for people working in this area across academic disciplines to communicate with each other and get their work on the agendas of policymakers, to help them try to tackle the problem.”

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