Prof. Walter Quattrociocchi is a scholar and a researcher at the Center of Data Science and Complexity for Society (CDCS), Sapienza University of Rome. For years he has been studying the ways information spreads over the internet. During the recent Oscar Pomilio Blumm Forum dedicated to disinformation, he found time to talk about his research and how important it is for institutions to understand and address this serious problem properly.

Prof. Quattrociochi’s contributions to social network analysis, computational social sciences and the study of online disinformation lead to some groundbreaking conclusions. He emphasises the need for changing the general understanding of the problem which, surprisingly, is not ‘a competition between fake news and real news’ and the importance of ‘media literacy understood … as awareness of the forces driving the information spread on social media platforms’. He concludes that the EU has a lot to learn in this context.

The scientific approach to the information ecosystem reveals the dynamics of information proliferation over the internet which are constantly changing. At the moment we’re witnessing a paradigm shift as the ecosystem has become dominated by the social media business model leading in consequence to information overload. Another important feature is the presence of echo chambers as information spreads ‘mainly across groups of individuals interested in specific narratives’. Furthermore, ‘people are moving across different platforms to the extent that we are passing from an echo chamber dominated system to the echo platforms system.’

Disinformation is one of the modern-day problems where science again proves to be an invaluable help in searching for solutions. It provides institutions with solid data-based insight into the heart of the issue. A good understanding of the situation is the key to creating an effective strategy to address the problem. Raising awareness and advocacy within institutions are Prof. Quattrociocchi’s objectives because, as he puts it, ‘Defining the problem in the wrong way is like running around without reaching any kind of consensus.’ It’s an important reminder that mustn’t fall on deaf ears.