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Social Observatory for Disinformation and Social Media Analysis

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - SOMA (Social Observatory for Disinformation and Social Media Analysis)

Reporting period: 2020-05-01 to 2021-04-30

SOMA 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.
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. The actions towards these objectives are the following:

Constitution of SOMA community: SOMA aimed at constituting and providing support to a European community of disinformation stakeholders to jointly fight disinformation. SOMA community was built around the shared access and use of the collaborative verification platform (Truly Media), dedicated mailing lists, as well as periodic meetings between the organizations to allow and facilitate exchange of information and collaboration on shared initiatives. By the end of the project, SOMA community consisted of a group of 100 members featuring 38 think-tanks/research centers/NGOs; 13 fact-checking organizations; 12 companies (9 of which are tech); 11 freelancers; 8 associations/networks of orgs; 7 media literacy organisations; 6 media companies; 5 governmental or state-connected entities.

Engagement of SOMA community: the main strategies for the engagement of the community have been a series of webinars to present the tools at disposal; the mapping of the skills of the community members; the launch of a “listening questionnaire” to better understand the needs and expectation of the members; and the initiation and active promotion of investigations.

Mapping of research activities around disinformation: This activity was led by DATALAB – Center for Digital Social Research at Aarhus University, and included the following pillars with a focus on the investigation of current methods and analytical tools and a suggestion of optimal methodological setups:

Setting up centers of excellence: Three centers for excellence studies on online disinformation have been established in Denmark, Greece and Italy to act as a point of reference within the national/regional stakeholder community. Respectively named EU REMID (Denmark), Ellpap (Greece) and ALETHEIA (Italy), the centers work with local communities and provide content both in English and in the local language.

Developing the DisInfoNet toolbox: The goal of this activity was building and modeling crucial tools for analysts, experts and journalists gathering knowledge on disinformation and eLiteracy.

Mapping the impact of disinformation: Under this activity, the SOMA project has elaborated a discussion on impact assessment considering two dimensions.

Organizing media literacy events: The Observatory media literacy program consisted of the organization of a comprehensive, Europe-wide, and inclusive set of activities to share news and best practices in the misinformation/disinformation field.

Set up of the collaborative environment: In the heart of the observatory lies the technological infrastructure that allows the community to exchange information and work together towards investigative work.
▪Develop a network of a group of 100 members featuring 38 think-tanks/research centers/NGOs; 13 fact-checking organizations; 12 companies (9 of which are tech); 11 freelancers; 8 associations/networks of orgs; 7 media literacy organisations; 6 media companies; 5 governmental or state-connected entities;
▪Produce 20 collaborative investigations through the SOMA Observatory platform;
▪Promote a successful collaboration among network members in the joint investigative activities of the Observatory, with overall 33 members from 19 countries actively participating in them;
▪Organize 14 stakeholder events in different locations including Belgium, Slovenia, Denmark, Italy and South Africa;
▪Organize 2 Public events
▪Launch 3 centers of excellence, 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 impact of disinformation, the evaluation framework to assess the impact of the SOMA project and the Source Transparency Index;
▪Conduct several dissemination activities to create awareness about SOMA;
▪Produce an exploitation plan
Scientific impact: Scientific impact is determined according to the project capability to impact on scientific production and knowledge sharing.
Impact on science and academia: 11 papers have been submitted in scientific journals.
Impact on knowledge production: The Observatory reached 100 members from 23 European countries and 8 countries outside Europe. Out of 100 members, 23 have been the most engaged. These 23 members produced 19 collaborative investigations strengthening the collaboration between researchers and fact-checkers and 7 individual investigations.
Impact on knowledge sharing: Considering all events attended by SOMA partners, 42 is the final number where the project has been disseminated. Events coverage has been wide considering that events have been attended inside and outside Europe. Also, three centers of excellence have been created to disseminate information and knowledge against disinformation.
Impact on data access for scientific purposes: In terms of data access for scientific purposes, SOMA achieved to provide data access to Facebook data through Crowd Tangle API for researchers and fact checkers.
Technological impact
Impact on the use of technology: This sub-category is related to the technology provision to users for navigating information against disinformation. First of all, 110 active members used the platform adopted by SOMA. Moreover, the SOMA project allowed the extend of the Truly Media platform adding tools and features directly accessible to users to fight disinformation.
Impact on technological tools: In relation to the second sub-category, SOMA has allowed to produce three new technological tools and one algorithm. The tools have been directly integrated into the Truly Media platform, while the algorithm has been published in a scientific journal and also in Bitbucket, an Open-Source repository.
Political impact
Impact on policy and institutions: The project allowed to create a bridge among the EC and the social media platform having an impact on terms of policies for data access. Indeed, as anticipated, SOMA succeeded in gaining access to CrowdTangle to get data for scientific purposes. Moreover, papers based on SOMA research have been disseminated to the EC to provide almost real time information on covid 19 and 5G, trying to inform the EC on those relevant aspects.
Impact on civic and political participation: In relation to the impact on civic and political participation, SOMA allowed members to improve their own capability to participate in the political debate through more correct information.