Special Session (90 Min)

How to Design and Build Semantic Applications

Title: Developing a Metadata Community Response to the Post-Truth Information Age
Day/Time: Thursday, 3:30-5:00
Room: Arlington/Fairfax (3rd Floor)
Sponsored By: DCMI Governing Board

Presenter & Moderator: David Clarke, Synaptica®

Session Abstract

Post-truth issues are adversely affecting people all around the world. The metadata and knowledge organization communities have a mission to help people access information that is as objective, comprehensive and as relevant as possible. This session is an open invitation to members of our community to engage with these issues, contribute ideas for solutions, and consider whether DCMI has a potential role to play in charting a path forward.

In 2016 the Oxford English Dictionary chose ‘post-truth’ as word of the year. Their decision was based on the proliferation of fake news stories and misinformation that accompanied both the US national election and the British EU referendum. On Earth Day in April 2017 thousands of people gathered in London for a March for Science, protesting the negative impact of post-truth culture and politics on science, research and education.

How can the metadata community engage with, and respond to, these issues? In this session, David Clarke will describe the problem space and comment on the issues from the perspective of knowledge organization and information science. The session will include ample time for delegate participation, including a discussion about how the metadata community can get involved and contribute ideas for solutions.


Post-truth embraces several distinct concepts with different causes and effects. Fake news is the most talked-about manifestation of post–truth. Fake news describes false information that is presented to look like news stories. Fake news includes: (i) playful hoaxes and satirical content; (ii) opinion-based content that may represent the sincere beliefs of its authors, but which nevertheless conveys misinformation; and (iii) disinformation, which differs from misinformation in that it is deliberately disseminated to deceive its target audience. An alarming form of disinformation in social media is ‘socialbots’, which can automatically generate thousands of artificial messages in support of, or opposition to, political candidates and causes. They distort human democratic discourse and have influenced recent elections.

A second manifestation of post-truth is commonly referred to as the filter bubble, which is a consequence of personalized search. Traditional search methods use relevancy-based processes in which user queries are searched against keywords in documents and their metadata. In personalized search, however, a query is only partially based upon the user query and the content, a substantial amount of additional filtering is performed using personal profile data about the user’s past preferences and behaviors as well as demographic data. Personalized search means that different people may retrieve significantly different search results when they input the same question. The technique was originally developed to enhance online shopping experiences, where it has proved to be very successful. When the same techniques are applied to the retrieval of news and general knowledge, however, they can distort people’s sense of reality. Eli Pariser described the problem in his 2012 book called The Filter Bubble: How the New Personalized Web is Changing What We Read and How We Think:

"Left to their own devices, personalization filters serve up a kind of autopropaganda, indoctrinating us with our own ideas, amplifying our desire for things that are familiar… In the filter bubble, there’s less room for the chance encounters that bring insight and learning…".

A third manifestation of post-truth concerns sponsored content, the ability of advertisers to pay to promote content in search engine results or to deliver messages via social media, both of which can be selectively disseminated to precisely defined audience segments. Advertising and sponsored results for search queries about products and services is universally practiced and widely accepted. A disturbing post-truth phenomenon is that sponsored content is also being disseminated for search queries about general knowledge and news. If a vested interest wants to influence public opinion about a topic like climate change or a particular taxation policy then they can pay to ensure their content rises to the top. Unlike print and broadcast media political advertising on the Internet is unregulated. Political campaign managers in the USA and UK described micro-targeted messaging via social media as decisive in recent elections. For democracy to work, people need access to objective and trustworthy information.

A fourth issue in the post-truth problem space is information-literacy. For a large and growing percentage of the population web search engines and social media have become the primary source for news and general information. These platforms aggregate content from many different sources, including authoritative content and fact-checked news stories, as well as opinion-based content and disinformation. A paradox of the Information Age is that while we have access to many more and diverse information sources, it is getting harder to determine the origin and authenticity of information, to distinguish fact from opinion and truth from lies.

David Clarke

David Clarke, Synaptica®

David Clarke is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, London, and an Associate of St. George’s House, Windsor. He is cofounder and CEO of the Synaptica® group of companies, providers of enterprise software solutions for knowledge organization and discovery. He served on the authoring committee of the 2005 version of the US national standard for controlled vocabularies, ANSI/NISO Z39.19. David leads research and development at Synaptica, including software solutions for taxonomy and ontology management, text analytics and auto-categorization, image annotation and indexing, and Linked Data management. He is involved in educational outreach programs including LD4PE, the Linked Data for Professional Education initiative of DCMI. Synaptica software solutions have attracted numerous international awards including: Knowledge Management World magazine’s 100 Companies that Matter in KM and Trend Setting Product of the Year (multiple awards between 2011 and 2017). In 2016 Clarke was awarded the Knowledge Management Leadership Award by the Global Knowledge Management Congress.

DCMI logo DCMI's work is supported, promoted and improved by « Member organizations » around the world:

The National Library of Finland The National Library of Korea The National Library Board Singapore
Shanghai Library Simmons College GSLIS (US) Information School of the University of Washington
SUB Goettingen Research Center for Knowledge Communities, Tsukuba University Infocom Corporation (Japan)
UNESP (Brazil) Universisty of Edinburgh ZBW (Germany)

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