Welcome to the first module of this course, the digital contexts of communication. In this module, we will learn about the importance of trust in terms of information overload and strategies to ensure the dissemination of reliable scientific knowledge. In this first video, we will discuss the advantages and disadvantages of digital communication. We will unpack what digitalization means for trust and social institutions. First off, let's break down how scientific knowledge is communicated and walk through the impact that digitalization has had on this form of communication. Science, as we know, it is a social practice that aims to generate and develop knowledge about the world around us. While scientists attempt to do their work impartially and free from bias or influence, research is always subject to social, political, economic, and personal interests. These dynamics mean that scientific research in variably contributes to reinforcing, critiquing, questioning, or supporting the status quo. This can be observed in scientific advancements. Technologies and the scientific research that contributes to their development are not neutral. They reflect the values, priorities, interests, and norms of the context in which they were developed. Similarly, public perceptions of science are likewise shaped by social contexts, the cultural assumptions that people make about what is important, how things should be organized, and who should be in control of different situations. This is something we need to take seriously. In order to make the communication of scientific knowledge more effective, we can focus on four basic elements that influence public perception. These elements are the audience's characteristics, the communicator's characteristics, features of the message and features of the media environment. Digitalization and technological innovations in the last few decades have made information on any topic widely accessible to just about everyone. Digital media platforms have brought about significant changes in the ways we communicate information and understand what is trustworthy information and what is not. This raises some interesting questions. How has digitalization changed citizen's ability to make sense of scientific information? How does the ease of spreading information also facilitate the spread of misinformation? An abundance of information has made it difficult to distinguish between reliable and unreliable information. This development has shed a light on terms like information, misinformation and disinformation. Information can be seen as knowledge that is obtained from investigation, study, or instruction. Misinformation is false information that is spread, but not necessarily with the intent to mislead. Disinformation refers to false information that is deliberately fabricated and is often spread in order to obscure the truth or to influence public opinion. An abundance of information has been advantageous in, for instance, communication regarding COVID-19. Audiences were opened to consulting a variety of newspapers and websites and this has helped people critically verify information from different sources and to understand what is happening. However, during this pandemic, such abundance has highlighted the widespread misinformation in the digital world, a concept that the World Health Organization has referred to as an infodemic. This development has undermined policy responses and amplified concerns and distrust amongst citizens. The ability to search for anything online has put the choice of whom and what to trust in the hands of citizens. But nowadays, much information is not only produced by traditional experts such as scientists or health practitioners. In addition, not all information is fact checked and processed by traditional mediators of information such as journalists. Participation online has given citizens the option to create user-generated content, which serves as an alternative source of information. A case in point is the rise of social media influencers, normal citizens who often do not have official credentials. These influences have the power to reach very large audiences in the digital ecosystem. The popularity of these social media influencers generally overrides whether or not they're qualified to speak on particular topics. With easy access to information on various platforms at all times, the spread of misinformation continues to thrive. This makes it more difficult to distinguish between facts and opinions. The prevalence of the digital media platforms means that social scientists must be aware of new media tools, language, and needs of the new media environment. Traditionally, the work of social scientists either remains confined within academic spaces or a dependent on journalists for widespread circulation. But digital platforms provide opportunities for social scientists to communicate directly with the public. Today, many scientists are making use of this opportunity to communicate with the outside world. Therefore, they benefit from having at least some understanding of the language and needs of the surrounding media environment. The participatory nature of digital platforms has enabled different people to communicate continuously. It has enabled quick movement of information from one platform to another. The fact that information is disseminated across multiple platforms, including websites, blogs, journals, and media makes it increasingly more difficult to find what is true. These platforms are constantly evolving and upgrading their features to allow for interaction and discussion. They also increasingly use AI-based software that sifts through large databases of information about the users. Now, more than ever, content is made to appeal to users through captivating language, visuals, and presentation. Digital media platforms provide an ideal environment for misinformation to thrive. This has led to several consequences for the public's trust in institutions like media science or governments. A case in point is the proliferation of conspiracy theories. A very well-known example of a conspiracy theory is QAnon. QAnon is a North American far-right conspiracy theory with no apparent evidence. Among the conspiracies conjured up by QAnon are conspiracies about political leaders like Barrack Obama and Hillary Clinton who are thought to be involved in heinous crimes like child trafficking. This conspiracy, like many others, grew out of user-generated content and has no evidence to support its claims. This conspiracy theory became popular through online environments, such as posts on YouTube, Reddit, and other online sources.These platforms allow users to publish their claims and ideas on a specific topic without evidence for their claims. We have seen the immediate effects of conspiracy theories during the COVID-19 pandemic. In Europe and elsewhere, a number of citizens have protested against vaccinations. This is likely caused by them being exposed to misinformation on digital platforms. These conspiracy beliefs provide an alternative and incorrect explanation to scientific phenomena. These conspiracy theories have harmful effects on trust and social institutions, undermining the credibility and importance of scientific research and their policy recommendations. We have discussed how an abundance of information poses a threat to distribution of factual information and trust in institutions. These threats do not only exist in the public sphere, but can also be seen within academic research. For example, recently the grievance studies affair exposed concerns about scholarship and the humanities and social sciences. This hoax free offers fabricated 20 academic papers to find out whether these could pass through peer review to be published in the academic journals. Seven of 20 deliberately incorrect and unreliable papers were published and several were praised for their contributions to the field. This example shows that scientific knowledge systems are vulnerable to the threat of this information. Cases like the grievance studies affair indicate a risk to scientific trust and the need for action to not only address problems of disinformation, but also to implement better review practices for academic research. In this video, we have learned about the relevance of digitalization and the ongoing consequences of abundance of information on digital platforms. Though we may benefit from digitalization, there are also several potential drawbacks. It is difficult to control misinformation and disinformation due to highly accessible platforms and methods of publishing online. This makes it difficult for people like academic researchers and public institutions to ensure trustworthiness of the information on these digital platforms. In the next video, we will address the importance of trust and social institutions. Stay tuned.