3 minute read

Should academic experts combat online misinformation?

Rewind to 2017, in the aftermath of the Brexit vote, prominent Brexiteer Michael Gove famously said “people in this country have had enough of experts”. Though to many this seemed like a stupid statement – surely you can trust the experts the most?

Why the scepticism toward academics? A mistake to perceive them as ivory tower elites disconnected from the realities of everyday life?

Perhaps this mistrust has been fuelled by various factors, including a perception that academic jargon alienates the general public, controversies surrounding academic research, and pressure to demonstrate practical relevance to pressing societal issues.

However, in recent years, there's been a noticeable shift in these attitudes. This has most likely been caused by the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic – where suddenly the general public was not able to form their own opinion on the biggest global issue, and simply needed to listen to the experts.

And the value of academic expertise is only increasing, as more pressing global challenges like climate change and economic inequality are affecting the daily lives of us all. In fact, in the Edelman trust barometer, scientists and academics are the most trusted profession – by far ahead of government leaders and the general public.

Perhaps, after a number of years of discontent with expertise, the academic expert has had a resurgence, and the general public is truly seeing the value of experts again? Well, most of the general public anyway…

Though the value of experts is high, with the rise of social media and its ease of amplifying normal people with no expertise who can influence the opinion of the masses – there is still a desperate need to challenge misinformation online. Over the last decade, we’ve seen an explosion of influencers and opinion shapers online, gathering large online followings discussing contentious issues despite having very little expertise in the area – it can be hugely dangerous.

Tackling this is now more important than ever, especially in the lead-up to two huge elections in the Western world in 2024 – the US and the UK – where issues like climate change, immigration, war and defence are all going to be at the forefront of debate. Therefore, it is important that the experts on all these topics are the most prominent voices, not those with little expertise, but large influence.


Should social media be doing more?

Does social media have a responsibility to not only tackle this misinformation but also strictly only promote facts and expertise too?

It’s highly likely these companies won’t go far enough in blocking these non-expert views. Elon Musk prides himself as a free speech advocator, though his community notes section certainly has been helpful in fact-checking. Whilst previous attempts to clamp down on misinformation on Facebook and TikTok may not have been as successful as we’d like.

One way that experts can do so, however, is by challenging those people online spreading fake news with the facts and informing their audiences of the actual impact of their misinformation, showcasing what the real facts are.

What about the more traditional news?

Putting social media to the side, there is surely more of a responsibility for official, regulated news outlets and broadcasters to stop spreading misinformation and focus specifically on expert voices. That’s a large part of the work we do at BlueSky Education – ensuring academics have their voices heard in influential media, from top-tier press like the Financial Times, the BBC and Newsweek, to sector press and key titles in different countries around the world.  

Look towards the future

With a number of elections on the horizon and the popularity of social media – it’s likely misinformation is going to be prominent online.

So, how can business schools, academics and industry experts tackle this misinformation themselves and debunk it? The main way is to simply challenge it.

Academics need to spread their own fact-based research, knowledge and expertise to challenge the misinformation that is seen on these platforms. It is not enough to simply ignore it, but academics have to engage with those who spread falsehoods and misinformation and correct their wrongs publicly, to ensure they are shown to be telling mistruths – otherwise, many more will agree with them, which can be dangerous for society as a whole.

It has never been more important for academics to leverage their voices and expertise in the media to tackle misinformation and those who spread it once and for all.

Get in touch today if you’d like our help with this.

PeterAuthor: Peter Remon

Peter achieves prominence for clients across a breadth and depth of significant publications, from trade specific media like International Finance Magazine and QS TopMBA, to national and international goliaths such as Handelsblatt, Le Monde, US News and World Report, and the Financial Times. He also writes under his own name for key publications such as HRZone, Medium and Data Driven Investor.


Originally published February 2021, updated June 2024

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