Duration: 1 December 2021 to 30 november 2024
Grant PLEC2021-007681 funded by MCIN/AEI/ 10.13039/501100011033 and by European Union NextGenerationEU/PRTR
PI: Paolo Rosso
Members: Carlos D. Martínez

The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the population’s time of exposure to digital content and produced a notable increase in disinformation. According to Eurobarometer 2018 no. 464, the majority of the Spanish population (88%), considers that disinformation is a problem. 66% claim to encounter false information at least once a week (Eurobarometer 503, 2020). If we take into account that Spanish is the second most widely spoken language in the world in terms of native speakers (483 million Spanish speakers in more than 30 countries), we can appreciate the importance of developing methods and technologies to deal with disinformation in Spanish through from different platforms. Recent studies link the proliferation of disinformation with the spread of conspiracy theories and international organizations such as UNESCO warn that conspiracy theories cause real damage to the population, their health and safety. Conspiracy theories are distinguished from other types of misinformation practices: they offer a global explanation to important events claiming that they are the result of a secret plot orchestrated by powerful and malevolent groups. The phenomenon is not new, but it presents a new physiognomy: conspiracy theories are overflowing their traditional audience, the minorities that have always held these kinds of worldviews, to penetrate new layers of the population.

In the climate of threat and fear that every pandemic generates, three factors would explain this spillover effect: disinformation is anchored in health issues that capture the interest of a wider audience. A second factor has to do with the emergence of social networks: greater individual capacity to disseminate content, anonymity, and invisibility of sources. A third factor is the use of new narratives that fit well into this ecosystem: memes and fake news convey emotions in a powerful way, supporting conspiracy theories. The project aims to develop a holistic, socio-technological strategy to combat disinformation, increasing precision in the detection of false information and improving users’ digital literacy. To face the challenges of disinformation, we need interdisciplinary collaboration and the development of tools that private and public entities can use. Explainable Artificial Intelligence (XAI) can provide these tools by addressing the problem of detecting disinformation from a multimodal perspective that goes beyond the analysis of textual information. We aim to be able to explain not only AI models in their decision-making, but also the persuasion and psycholinguistic techniques used to trigger emotions and cause disinformation to spread. The final AI tool should also help
detect the use of these techniques in documents. The tool is intended for the general public and its use will allow the media and information platforms to be rated based on the quality of their health information, providing criteria to develop search engines that specifically prioritize information that meets these quality standards.

Consortium partners: Symanto Spain; Universitat Politècnica de València – PRHLT Research Center; Spanish National Research Council – ITEFI Institute; Universidad Politécnica de Madrid- AIDA Research Group (School of Computer Systems Engineering); Universidad de Granada – Departments DECSAI and DCL; Universitat de Barcelona CliC-UB Center.