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New UF research finds combination of human and automated news is perceived as more trustworthy

by | Jun 3, 2020

Newly honored scholarship from the University of Florida has shown that adding algorithmic reporting and human bylines to news stories are perceived as less biased. The research examines the emergent premise that if a machine, and not a human, generates a news story, the story is seen as objective and “free from bias.”

The research was conducted by UF Consortium on Trust in Media and Technology Trust Scholar Frank Waddell, who was recently honored with the Journalism and Mass Communications Quarterly (JMCQ) 2019 Outstanding Article Award for “Can an Algorithm Reduce the Perceived Bias of News? Testing the Effect of Machine Attribution on News Readers’ Evaluations of Bias, Anthropomorphism, and Credibility.”

Waddell’s research explored whether news attributed to an automated author is perceived as less biased and more credible than news attributed to a human author. Results revealed that perceptions of bias are lessened when news is attributed to a human journalist and algorithm in tandem, with positive consequences for perceived news credibility.

JMCQ is the flagship journal of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, the oldest refereed scholarly journal in mass communication.

Waddell’s research “advances theory and research in the emergent area of algorithm-based journalism,” according to comments from JMCQ board members. “[The article provides] clever methods, clear findings, is lucidly reported and makes a useful contribution to our understanding of news readers’ reactions to AI-driven media….As we move into the age of robot news, this article is significant in helping to decide if machine attribution increases the credibility of news sources.”

Waddell is an assistant professor in the UF College of Journalism and Communications Journalism Department. His research includes work related to automated news, the psychology of online comments, and the effects of social television. As part of the Trust Consortium, he is studying how sexist portrayals of journalism in popular films and television shows affect our trust of journalists in everyday life.

In January, the Consortium named 12 UF faculty members as Trust Scholars. Research from the scholars includes examinations of the effects of artificial intelligence on the creation of “deep fakes” and data infrastructure, to strategies on improving digital literacy and organizational communication.

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