iAffiliates Day focuses on the fight against misinformation

Jevin West presents on-screen alongside a slide with an illustration and the word "Infodemic."
iSchool Associate Professor Jevin West presents at iAffiliates Day.

What can businesses and organizations do to stem the tide of misinformation? That was the hot topic at iAffiliates Day, which brought dozens of Seattle-area business leaders together online April 27 with researchers from the University of Washington Information School and Center for an Informed Public (CIP).

In his opening remarks, iSchool Dean Anind Dey outlined several iSchool initiatives, noting that the CIP has taken a national and international role in combating misinformation. The spread of misinformation played a prominent role both in the 2020 election and the COVID-19 pandemic, Dey said.

“If the past year has taught us anything, it’s the centrality of information and information science in everything we do,” he said.

Jevin West, an associate professor at the iSchool and director of the CIP, gave an introductory talk that addressed some of the ways misinformation has affected aspects of society such as politics and public health. His examples included a false Facebook post — shared 4 million times — saying that Pope Francis had endorsed Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential bid; and, more recently, a Miami school that cited misinformation to justify a ban on vaccinated teachers in its classrooms.

West described the CIP’s research and encouraged business leaders at iAffiliates Day to think about what they can do to address the problem of misinformation and its strategic use, disinformation.

“Society is looking to leaders, and I think the business community can be a leader in this space,” West said. “I think there’s an opportunity for the businesses and society to have these brainstorm sessions and try to address this very serious problem.”

Attendees then took their turns in breakout groups centered around four themes:

  • The role of the private and public sectors in mitigating mis- and disinformation with Rachel Moran, a postdoctoral researcher with the CIP, and Meredith Berger, senior manager with Microsoft’s Defending Democracy Program.
  • Misinformation and disinformation as a cybersecurity threat with Tanu Mitra, an iSchool assistant professor, and Ashish Jaiman, director of technology and operations for the Customer Security and Trust organization at Microsoft.
  • Balancing the right to free speech with regulation of mis- and disinformation with Nicole Buckley, a second-year UW School of Law student who worked as an analyst on the Election Integrity Partnership, and Joe Tullio, a research manager at Facebook.
  • COVID-19, vaccines and the cost of misinformation with Kolina Koltai, a CIP postdoctoral researcher, and Claudiu Branzan, an analytics senior manager at Accenture.

The iSchool’s iAffiliates program, led by Teaching Professor Sean McGann, is designed to connect strategic partners with faculty and students. The school tailors engagement plans to partners’ goals and provides ways for them to participate in the school’s intellectual community, recruit students and take part in other activities. Partners make a monetary investment that furthers iSchool teaching and research.