1st International Workshop on Online Information Quality

In the “Onlife” era, the distinction between online and offline has faded away. This means that our online actions have a direct impact on our offline actions, and vice-versa. Nevertheless, we, as humans, are often unable to evaluate the consequences of the flow of online information, as the speed, persistence, heterogeneity and volume of online information is inherently different from those in the offline world in which we have evolved.

Fake news is a straightforward example of how dependent our offline world is from typical online phenomena that human agents may be unable to understand or control. This calls for the development of tools and methods that enable a more informed, augmented access to online information. While the veracity of online information is one of the more urgent challenges we may have to tackle, many other informational qualities (like neutrality and completeness) can benefit from being quantified and presented to users who access online information. This idea of semantically enhancing or annotating online information can be extended to include specific low-level metadata, like timestamps and author-identities, to help users to correctly interpret the information they observe. By presenting quality assessments and meta-information to online users, we can increase their awareness, and lead them to a more conscious consumption (and creation) of online information. Tools for assessing the quality of Web information have already been proposed, but such tools have to be accompanied with an effort to spread awareness about the quality of online information and to increase the incentives that users have in using them.

Several key-players in the internet and technology industry are currently proposing solutions to the rise of fake news by combining automated methods with human contributions. In doing so, they only address a limited range of actions that can be taken in order to improve our access to online information and our ability to evaluate its multiple qualities. A document containing factual information may, for instance, still be incomplete or lack readability. A potentially even more problematic issue is the “framing” of information in online environments, for even factual raw data can be framed in ways that can make certain conclusions, outlooks or worldviews more likely than others, and thus influence the decision-making processes of the consumers of these data. These framing processes are far from being comparable to fake news, but their presence and influence is crucial in determining how issues are defined, understood and acted upon by users of information. As such, the lack of transparency caused by the framing quickly becomes a problem that needs to be addressed when we study and try to improve information quality online.

Therefore, it is important to identify the quality aspects (or dimensions) that are most likely to affect the lives of those who consume online information, to develop methods to quantify these qualities, and to understand how different actors evaluate these qualities. In the case of fake news this can be assessed by authorities through proper validation methodologies and lead to a binary evaluation of information quality (“fake” vs. “real”), but in most other cases the evaluations will be more gradual and potentially also more subjective. Preliminary studies on this topic have been proposed, and will provide a starting basis for the workshop.

The practice of source criticism offers an inspiring starting point for the assessment and augmentation of online information, but will have to be extended and adapted to the range of non-traditional sources of information that are present online (e.g., blog posts).