College of Communication and Information launches Information Integrity Institute

Published 5:37 pm Wednesday, February 8, 2023

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University of Tennessee

The University of Tennessee, is bettering its ability to facilitate interdisciplinary research as the College of Communication and Information establishes the Information Integrity Institute.

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The institute will encompass many areas of research throughout the college, including misinformation, disinformation, trusted data, identifying quality information, and other topics.

Suzie Allard, Chancellor’s Professor of Information Sciences, led the college’s faculty in brainstorming sessions to identify research affinity groupings, and it became apparent there was an opportunity to better facilitate research in an area with many varied aspects: information.

“In today’s society, we are constantly bombarded by an information tidal wave. It’s difficult for people to know what is good information and what is harmful. Our individual and our community well-being depends on people finding trustworthy information,” said Allard.

Catherine Luther, who has been serving as director of the School of Journalism and Electronic Media, has been named director of the institute which launches on July 1.

Luther returns to UT after her second Fulbright scholarship in the Czech Republic, where she conducted research and taught at Masaryk University. She studied the underlying factors that may have contributed to individuals in the Czech Republic being susceptible or resistant to Russia’s information warfare campaigns as well as social and digital activism among young adults there.

“Catherine has a remarkable international research recognition and agenda. She is already leading a research team that won funding from a federal agency, and she’s passionate about this area. She is really interested in helping other faculty, especially young faculty, excel and develop their research,” Allard said. “She also is committed to helping students gain experience in this area that they can take with them after they graduate. Their knowledge from participating at the institute will help others and society, as they take this beyond UT as working professionals.

“The institute’s focus is to increase research opportunities and provide a place for more interdisciplinary work within our own college. It’s driven by the diversity of what our faculty study and research. We’ve captured the breadth of the work with the title information integrity. We also aim to work with collaborators from across campus.”

Luther said the institute, for example, will allow researchers “to develop a deeper understanding of how individuals consume, respond to, and share information, and how information might be shaping societal ideas and actions.” Her experience leading an interdisciplinary research team to study disinformation has reinforced the idea that it is beneficial for people with different areas of knowledge to work together on research.

“It really helps to have different perspectives. By sharing unique perspectives we often are able to develop new knowledge and new methodological approaches. I hope that the interdisciplinary nature of the new institute will be stressed, because I truly believe that new areas of expertise can be developed through it,” Luther said.

In addition to robust work conducted around information integrity on a national level, the College of Communication and Information is home to a strong group of scholars who study international communication and information and provide a global perspective on information integrity. Allard noted that the institute is truly a unique way to approach communication and information research as it applies to both national and international research.

“This is a mission that unites the research of many CCI faculty who use their communication, journalism, advertising, public relations, and information science research skills to tame this tidal wave of information. Their research in this area fights disinformation campaigns, empowers better health outcomes, encourages responsible consumerism, supports small businesses, and provides trustworthy media coverage,” Allard said.

Sharing skill sets, ideas, best practices, and different perspectives is the true purpose of the institute, Allard said. While funding or connecting collaborators may be a result of creating this meeting point of ideas, it’s not the only objective.

A postdoctoral fellow will work with and be mentored by Luther to develop their own research agenda. This structure is a way to draw additional perspectives to the institute as well as making the college a standout institution where high-quality interdisciplinary research is fostered.

Allard said, “We would like to be known as a spot where people want to come to build their research reputation, which will help them get their dream job.”