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Social Observatory for Disinformation and Social Media Analysis

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - SOMA (Social Observatory for Disinformation and Social Media Analysis)

Reporting period: 2018-11-01 to 2020-04-30

SOMA (Social Observatory for Disinformation and Social Media Analysis ) is a project funded by the European Commission, with one of its main aims being the establishment and operation of a European Observatory against Disinformation.

The establishment of the European Observatory against Disinformation has since the beginning of the SOMA project been considered as a multifaceted mission. Various objectives were set that would help towards this aim and finally converge to the establishment of a structure that can be sustainable in the years to follow. These objectives range from: setting up the necessary technological infrastructure; attracting the relevant community; training the corresponding stakeholder groups; coordinating the operation of the observatory; setting up national centers that can act as satellite nodes with a multiplying effect; and finally assessing the impact both of disinformation, as well as of our intervention.

Technology Infrastructure: In the heart of the observatory lies the technological infrastructure that allows the community to exchange information and work together towards investigative work. This is based on a pre-existing collaborative verification platform that was developed by ATC and Deutsche Welle and was already in operation for such purposes, serving newsrooms and large organisations in need of collaborative investigative work. This platform, Truly Media , has been employed and enriched with new functionalities that were found instrumental for the particular community. These functionalities include: instant access to trending stories monitored by the European Media Monitoring platform; a ticketing mechanism that allows investigators to ask for the official position of the European Commission, the European Parliament and Eurostat; as well as access to official information sources such as the European Parliament, Eurostat and OECD.

Observatory operation: This technological infrastructure has been advertised and demonstrated to potential members of the observatory consisting of fact-checkers, media organizations, researchers, social media innovators and non-governmental policy makers. Both the prospect of freely using such advanced tools as well as being in the same community and workplace with key stakeholders from all over Europe, has attracted the interest of a great number of organizations that applied to become members of the observatory. An easy to use application form hosted at the SOMA portal (www.disinfobservatory.org) is the way to express the interest in joining the observatory.

Media Literacy Program: The Media Literacy program delivered during the project is an asset for the long-term sustainability of the project. While content and course materials are available online and free to be used for non-commercial purposes, SOMA is in the position of providing professional training and education plans to relevant stakeholders, including professionals, students or citizens.

Centers of Excellence: SOMA focuses on mapping and advancing research into information flows and disorder on social media, and support fact checkers, journalists and researchers in their work against disinformation by offering knowledge sharing on latest issues, methods, results and effects via the implementation of three national Centers of Excellence that have been established in Italy (ALETHEIA) Denmark (Remid) and Greece (Ellpap) These centers are an additional asset and act as a point of reference within the national stakeholder community.
ALETHEIA (https://datalab.luiss.it/aletheia-2/)
EU Remid (https://datalab.au.dk/eu-remid/)
Ellpap (https://ellpap.gr/)

Impact assessment: The impact assessment is built on a robust methodology called Sequoia (Passani et al. 2014), developed and validated in previous European projects and redefined for the scope of SOMA. The Sequoia methodology has been used as a starting point for the definition of the SOMA methodology in order to build up specific indicators and variables fitting for the scope of the analysis. In line with this, the framework used for SOMA aims to map three different areas of impact: social, political and economic.
-Develop a network of 65 independent fact-checkers, media organizations, researchers, social media innovators and non-governmental policy makers;
-Produce 10 collaborative investigations through the SOMA Observatory platform;
-Organize 7 stakeholder events in different locations including Belgium, Slovenia, Denmark, Italy and South Africa;
-Launch of 3 centers of excellence studies, in Italy, Denmark and Greece respectively, to act as local points of reference for the study of mis/dis-information;
-Investigate current and suggested optimal methodological set ups and tools for the created centers and the observatory with a specific focus on social media data access solutions and solutions for safe storage of social media data to be used for disinformation research;
-Produce the methodological framework to assess the impacts of disinformation, the evaluation framework to assess the impacts of the SOMA project and the Source Transparency Index;
-Conduct several dissemination activities to create awareness about SOMA;
-Produce a preliminary exploitation plan including a view of the relevant market landscape and most competitive products as well as identification of the SOMA tangible assets;
-Increased trust and improved governance and value for Social Media and Media
SOMA has established a European Centre for social media stakeholders undertaking research on disinformation and has developed a Source Transparency Index to immediately verify sources. In the framework of the proposed solutions and expected project results, SOMA has provided to the European community of fact-checkers with fact-checking tools and access to TrulyMedia, a platform co-developed by ATC and Deutsche Welle for collaborative content verification.

-New federated Social Media platforms and innovative media data driven services
The scope of the Observatory is to create a solid structure to collect, store and analyse data producing research and outcome on the social media state of the art and functioning. SOMA will also benefit from the engagement of fact checkers groups, together with Social media initiatives to foster cooperation and develop new services for a safe Social Media ecosystem.

-Societal change towards digital literacy and citizen participation
A major impact of the SOMA project is in relation to activities and initiatives to foster media literacy of European citizens. Seminars, workshops, events and conferences for different target groups have been organised in different European countries to increase media literacy. Courseware and material is publicly available. A dedicated WP (WP4) takes care of the organisation of the events, engaging citizens, journalists and media professionals, fact checkers and policy makers in the discussions.