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    HomeTechUS podcast misinformation goes largely unchecked

    US podcast misinformation goes largely unchecked


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    WASHINGTON: Rob Lever Misinformation about various topics, ranging from election fraud to Covid-19 vaccines, is spreading rapidly among millions of Americans through an increasingly popular but opaque medium: podcasts. These on-demand audio programs, easily accessible on smartphones, are being used to broadcast false and unverified claims. According to research conducted by the Brookings Institution, Steve Bannon’s podcast, “War Room,” which supports allegations of vote rigging in the 2020 US election, has garnered over 135 million downloads, making it the main source of misinformation. Furthermore, Joe Rogan, the host of Spotify’s most popular podcast, has also utilized his platform to promote unproven Covid-19 treatments. The conversational nature of podcasts, combined with the trust built between host and audience, contributes to the rampant spread of misinformation. Valerie Wirtschafter, a senior data analyst at Brookings, emphasized the challenge posed by podcasting, as anyone can become a podcaster and discuss any topic without regulation or oversight.

    Brookings’ research team analyzed 36,000 podcast episodes and discovered that 70% of the most popular podcasts in the United States had shared at least one discredited claim flagged by fact-checkers. Many of these podcasts cast doubt on the integrity of the 2020 election or spread misinformation about the coronavirus pandemic.

    Unlike social media platforms, podcasts do not provide an avenue for listeners to comment or challenge the information presented, making it easier for false, misleading, or unsubstantiated content to spread freely. Brookings researchers noted that this lack of oversight contributes to the rapid dissemination of misinformation. In January, Rogan removed an episode of his podcast after discussing a fake tweet that falsely attributed Covid-19 vaccine misinformation to a Florida doctor. However, such actions are rare, and implementing moderation measures for technology companies remains a complex task.

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    A study conducted by the Pew Research Center in April revealed that approximately half of Americans listen to podcasts, with 87% of them expecting the information presented to be accurate. Consequently, podcasts enjoy a higher level of trust among audiences compared to other media platforms. Sylvia Chan-Olmsted, director of media consumer research at the University of Florida, explained that the intimacy of the host-listener relationship enhances trust and makes podcasts more impactful. This high level of trust amplifies the influence of podcast hosts and their ability to spread misinformation.

    In addition to Bannon and Rogan, another podcast bringing attention to the spread of misinformation is a top news commentary program on Apple by conservative activist Charlie Kirk. Kirk has made false claims about athletes dying from Covid-19 vaccines and alleged election manipulation by officials in Arizona during the 2020 election. When contacted for comment, Rogan, Bannon, and Kirk did not respond. Bannon, however, stated in an interview with The New York Times that being included in the report was a “badge of honor” and referred to his controversial statements as “truth.”

    Addressing podcast misinformation is challenging due to the decentralized nature of the podcasting ecosystem, which spans multiple platforms with different moderation rules. Spotify, for instance, prohibits “dangerous” content but also aims to respect creator expression. Despite accusations of spreading Covid-19 misinformation, Spotify supported Rogan in 2022. To enhance transparency for listeners and assist advertisers in avoiding podcasts with misinformation or conflicting content, NewsGuard, a firm that rates website credibility, announced plans to evaluate the trustworthiness of 200 popular podcasts starting in 2024. Eric Effron, Editorial Director of NewsGuard, acknowledged the difficulty in rating podcasts due to their audio format, which requires substantial time for listening and transcript analysis. He emphasized that the process involves a significant investment in human intelligence.

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    The responsibility for countering podcast misinformation remains unclear, with some pointing to the hosting platforms or recommendation algorithms of tech giants like Apple, Google, and Facebook. Wirtschafter from Brookings suggested that governments, podcast hosts, and listeners all have a role to play in improving the quality of information. Instead of solely removing content, providing more context and fostering a richer environment for exploring evidence and engaging in conversations could prove highly beneficial.

    – AFP

    Credit: The Star : Tech Feed

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