This consultation is now closed

Many thanks all contributors from over 50 countries for sharing your valuable knowledge, experience and perspectives in UNDP and UNESCO's global online consultation on the impact of, and responses to disinformation. The contributions from over 150 UN colleagues and other experts in this field will help to inform and sharpen UNDP and UNESCO’s responses to disinformation going forward.  If you missed the opportunity, you can still participate by submitting your written contribution to Niamh.hanafin@undp.org on or before 13th November 2020.

With much gratitude to our excellent team of moderators: 

Based on the results of this e-discussion, we will continue to sharpen our thinking through focussed consultations with key private sector actors, donors, UN and civil society organisations. The UNDP offer on information pollution will be drafted by early 2021 for further review and final inputs.

 

Welcome to engagement room 1!

An important step to developing effective responses to disinformation is understanding how it is impacting on our society, individual behaviours, media and systems of governance. Some of these are direct, such as low vaccination uptake, while some are indirect, such as discredited news media or eroded levels of public trust.

Please contribute your opinions about these impacts and others, based on what evidence you see.  Share examples of those real life effects of disinformation which you find most concerning.
As a reminder, disinformation is “false, manipulated or misleading content, created and spread unintentionally or intentionally, and which can cause potential harm to peace, human rights and sustainable development”.
 


Please answer any of the below questions (including the question numbers in your response).  Feel free to introduce yourself if you wish. We look forward to hearing from you. 

  1. What disinformation is strongly manifesting in your country/community?
     
  2. What do you consider to be the most significant impacts or risks of disinformation on the relationship between citizens and the state, or other actors and interests in society?
     
  3. Are there particular groups or communities being impacted more than others? Why? Do women or youth face any specific repercussions of disinformation?
     
  4. What is the impact on the mainstream media? On journalists? On public trust in mainstream news outlets?
     
  5. Which are the key online platforms and off-line channels through which disinformation commonly spreads?
     
  6. Is disinformation a significant governance concern?  Has a prevalence of disinformation impacted any national regulatory/policy framework and intervention? In what way? What are the implications of that?

 


We commit to protect the identities of those who require it. To comment anonymously, please select "Comment anonymously" before you submit your contribution. Alternatively, send your contribution by email to niamh.hanafin@undp.org requesting that you remain anonymous.

Comments (97)

Ema M Fong Moderator

Week Four Summary

Aloha Everyone!

Thank you for the fantastic showing up of contributions in room one (1) for week four. Your submissions are invaluable to the voice of the project and very much appreciated. 

The last week had some insightful feedback starting with Orna Young, who works with a FactCheck organization in Northern Ireland. The proliferation of mis- and disinformation, particularly on social media platforms. Orna pointed out that trust in reliable sources has eroded and undermined the public's confidence increased apathy in public participation in policy discourse on issues impacting them. Orna also contributes that the current global health emergency (COVID 19) has led to an "infodemic" of mis and disinformation. In essence, inaccurate information is a matter of life and death and can increase communal division divisions and alienate communities from political processes. According to Orna, Facebook leads that path in disseminating mis/ disinformation between 38-43% on COVID 19 over the last two months, followed by WhatsApp. 

Miroslava Sawiris submits valuable feedback by ten organizations and civil society initiatives from 6 European countries (Bulgaria, Hungary, Czechia, Lithuania, Slovakia, and Romania)Disinformation present in Central and Eastern Europe has historically focused on wedge issues, driving polarisation, and tensions in the respective countries. Examples of these include migration, the annexation of Crimea, conflict in Ukraine, or LGBTI rights. And, as of recent COVID 19. Medical disinformation has been politicized and exploited, which has led to unnecessary loss of life. Furthermore, a recent Avaaz study finds that misinformation content from the top 10 websites spreading such messaging had four times as many views as information from the top 10 health institutions. The political mainstream utilizes polarising messaging and conspiracy theories, and far-right public figures benefit from these while disseminating hate. In Slovakia, extreme-far right Kotleba – ĽSNS party (People's Party Our Slovakia) managed to build a substantial network of Facebook pages, open and closed groups, and related webpages to disseminate hateful messaging combined with disinformation and conspiracy theories. Traditional media is also utilized to spread mis/ disinformation. These tactics also aimed to radicalize and intimidate marginalized and vulnerable groups. The groups most impacted by mis/ disinformation include ethnic and national minorities, LGBTI people, youth with a constant social media presence, refugees, women politicians, and minority public figures. Miroslava also submitted that Social media platforms and encrypted messengers play a dominant role in disseminating disinformation. Due to the global reach and impact of disinformation, regulation on the national level is not possible nor practical. In Slovakia, a disinformation campaign led to the decision not to ratify the Istanbul Convention against domestic violence.

Paola Forgione, employed by the International Committee of the Red Cross in protecting healthcare from violence, submitted various interesting points of discussion. Paola notes disinformation undermines the relationship of trust between the citizens and the public health system. Mistrust over disinformation has led to multiple forms of violence against health personnel, perceived as accomplices to a "global conspiracy. Even when disinformation does not directly blame the healthcare workers or first responders, disinformation drives fear, stigmas, and fuels panic. These fears and stigmas have led ill people not to seek medical care or test for COVID 19. 

Al Sur Consortium also contributed valuable information. The consortium noted that disinformation is used as an umbrella harboring political and social issues. If approached simplistically, it may undermine freedom of expression and other fundamental rights. The consortium submitted two report links to back their findings. "Disinformation on the Internet in electoral contexts in Latin America and the Caribbean. Regional contribution of civil society organizations linked to Human Rights in the digital environment" and "Disinformation and the pandemic: A human rights perspective." Disinformation affected Latin American democracies as of recent, following increased political polarization in several countries. Issues emerged around the 2016 electoral process in the U.S. that led to the Trump presidential election and also present in other electoral processes in Latin America, such as the referendum for the Peace Treaty in Colombia (2016), the presidential elections in Mexico (2018), Brazil (2018), Bolivia (2019). It is challenging to relate disinformation campaigns to electoral results directly. Although substantial evidence shows, coordinated disinformation campaigns play a relevant role in shaping public debates. The exploitation of personal data allows the production of targeted and segmented communications aimed at political outcomes. The challenge of disinformation affects the electoral process and public health. The director's research from the Center for Studies on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information (CELE) found that dealing with disinformation needs to differ based on the country according to their own constitutional, social, and cultural characteristics. Various debates lie with the question of responsibility (legal or moral) of internet companies for hosting, distributing, curating, and amplifying the reach of fake news. 

Fact-checking initiatives and content moderation/curation have been the two most popular "remedies" requested from and displayed by Internet companies. However, content moderation appears to have failed to address the problem effectively. Criminal law has also been implemented in Argentina and Columbia against journalists and citizens charging "public intimidation" for disseminating COVID-19 disinformation. 

The lack of clarity in the definition of terms like "public intimidation" or "public fear" could threaten freedom of expression by causing particular views deemed dangerous and subject to a criminal conviction. Likewise, the police's pervasive monitoring of social media information may indirectly affect deterring a person from commenting or posting online. 

Israel Araujo noted social media is utilized to spread the "old news" from another country as local "new news" impacting vulnerable communities. From my experience working in violent conflict in Nigeria, the use of old news reported as new news led to various violent conflicts.

Thank you again to everyone that submitted their responses to room one (1) in week four of the UNDP | UNESCO project.

Warmest, Ema

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Week Three Summary (Room 1) by Moderator Doruk Ergun
Week Two Summary (Room 1) by Moderator Ema M Fong
Week One Summary (Room 1) by Moderator Sherine El Taraboulsi – McCarthy

Yazeed Al Jeddawy

A1:

Since much of the disinformation (and information of course) is shared through digital technology nowadays in my country, Yemen, disinformation is manifesting that digital technology is increasingly used as a tool to harm communities by means of disrupting their lives by spreading 'disorder of thoughts and fear among societies and communities. 

Sherine El Taraboulsi – McCarthy Moderator

Thanks, Yazeed. The psychological impact of disinformation is indeed important to take note of. Could you please give us an example of how disinformation has been "harmful" to your community? How does it affect different generations in your community? 

Yazeed Al Jeddawy

Sherine El Taraboulsi – McCarthy Thanks for your comment. Here in Yemen, the violent conflict has pushed the different parties to the conflict to take advantage of digital technology to defend their stances and positions and to share justifications to the public by means of sharing misleading content and false news. Some of such content is used to fuel hatred among the different constituencies and segments of the communities and to cause damage to the social fabrics in the different regions in Yemen. Moreover, the political parties and armed groups use bots to spread fear among activists. They respond to activists by sharing threatening messages that ultimately aim at shrinking the civic engagement spaces.

Sherine El Taraboulsi – McCarthy Moderator

Dear all,

Welcome to this UNDP-UNESCO consultation on effective governance, media, internet and peacebuilding responses to disinformation. I’m Sherine El Taraboulsi – McCarthy  from the Overseas Development Institute in London and I am delighted to be moderating this consultation with Jennifer McEneaney, UNDP for this week. Next week, we will be handing over to our colleagues but I am will continue to be engaged with all of you on this topic. 

Please go ahead and respond to the questions above. Please feel free to respond in your own language and this platform will automatically translate it into English.  

Looking forward to thought-provoking and interesting conversations on the topic.

Warm regards,

Sherine 

 

Olabisi Oduwole

Dear Sherine,

In Nigeria, WhatsApp is the major platform used for spreading misinformation, followed closely by Facebook.  Another mode of misinformation in Nigeria that is so powerful but often overlooked is 'word of mouth' or stories told from family members and friends. 

Whenever I could, i triy to correct false information I receive via WhatsApp by verifying the source and then checking the WHO or Cochrane websites for evidence on the topic. Then i share the evidence via the same platform I received the message from.

Ema M Fong Moderator

Olabisi Oduwole - when living in Nigeria as a peacebuilder, we found that WhatsApp, Facebook, and print media spread and reported disinformation so much that it resulted in protracted conflict, especially in the Middle Belt. Often specific tribes were blamed for acts of violence, sometimes utilising pictures from the Rwandan Genocide (as though they were photographed in a local community) to incite the youth. To curb this situation, INGOs began training media professionals and influencers in Conflict Sensitivity & Journalism. This helped the media professionals and influencers inform the communities in the various LGAs affected by violence and likewise de-escalate conflicts while building peace and unity.

Niamh Hanafin Moderator

Olabisi Oduwole I think this approach of personal responsibility to verify information before sharing and correcting disinformation is very critical.  I would encourage you to talk more about this strategy in Engagement Room 3 where we are exploring solutions to disinformation.

Ayushma Basnyat

In Nepal, UNDP's Electoral Support Project and UNESCO have collaborated on a range on issues; in particular, the two organizations collaborated to mark the World Press Freedom Day in 2019, which was themed, “Media for Democracy and Peace: Journalism and Elections in the Age of the Internet.” Nepal’s Ministry of Communication and Information Technology, the Election Commission Nepal and the Federation of Nepali Journalists, together with the European Union, UNESCO Nepal and UNDP’s Electoral Support Project organized a one-day national conference to celebrate this occasion.

The programme included several deliberations at the inaugural session as well as the six thematic panel discussions where a lot of pertinent ideas on the nexus between disinformation and governance - elections in particular - were raised.

Question 6: 

The participants noted that disinformation holds the power to impact national regulatory/policy framework and intervention. For example, the event explored how the dynamics of the Internet can lead to polarization, and how there are low barriers to spreading disinformation, hate speech and even incitements of violence. The event noted that this will be even more challenging when artificial intelligence becomes more prominent. Artificial intelligence has added new challenges with “deep fakes,” the rise of professions and industries that promote artificial intelligence and increased state sponsorship of “cyber troops.” Research from the University of Oxford also highlights the rise in junk news and fake social media accounts during election periods and disinformation campaigns through encrypted media like WhatsApp have also become a serious concern. All these risk eroding the public trust and faith in institutions.

Moreover, those present at the event noted that fake news remains a global challenge which seeks to undermine the integrity of elections. On one hand, digital media enable fake news and incitement; on the other hand, they also hold opportunities to reach more voters.

Question 3: 

The event included a dedicated session on “Digital Media – Portrayal of Gender and Social Inclusion.” The panel discussed how women and disadvantaged groups are often marginalized not only in the traditional media, but also in the digital media. Women and marginalized communities still struggle with access to the digital space, demonstrating that the digital media provides opportunities but also challenges for gender equality and social inclusion. The event drew an analogy describing social media as a reflection of the society, highlighting that existing forms of exclusion and marginalization are replicated on social media. For example, as per the data from the Nepal Police two years ago, there are approximately 90 incidences of cyber-attack reported; among these, women were among those frequently targeted. The presentation at the event stressed the belief that hate speech and disruption of communal harmony can harm marginalized groups because they are often more vulnerable.

More Information:

The full report, complete with recommendations and visual assets, of the event can be accessed here: https://www.np.undp.org/content/nepal/en/home/presscenter/articles/2019/world-press-freedom-day-2019.html

Other events where UNDP and UNESCO have collaborated include:

Ema M Fong Moderator

Olabisi Oduwole 

Protests in Nigeria against a police unit accused of human rights abuses have caused protests and counter-protests in Nigeria. Social media and traditional media have shown people protesting and now counter-protesting #endSars, and this last weekend some turned violent. Can you share more about what type of disinformation has been passed around and who are the main spreaders of disinformation? The government is threatening to shut down social media altogether, which has incited more protesting.

 

Member 001

Question 1. The commonest disinformation in Uganda right now is political propaganda, which manifests in form of false information not only about political candidates, but also about the achievements of government. Often, opposition candidates are branded negatively by the state, including blaming them for the lack of progress on policy implementation by the government. They are also accused of potentially causing unrest and potentially war.  

Sherine El Taraboulsi – McCarthy Moderator

Thank you for your comment. Would you be able to expand a bit further on this polarising effect of disinformation on Ugandan politics? Does it affect some groups more than others? How would a Ugandan define credible information? I would also be interested in hearing about the gender dynamics in this polarisation. 

Ssanyu Rebecca

Question 2: Hello, am Rebecca from Uganda. I am happy to contribute to this discussion which in my view touches accross several sectors in Uganda.

I think that currently in Uganda, the most significant risks of disinformation on the relationship between citizens and the state is its potential to cause civil unrest, and if not quickly curbed, even war. When especially young people who have no other means of obtaining information but to hear it from others or from unregulated social media absorb disinformation especially of a political nature, they become agitated and want to act radically. Moreover, they have nothing to lose - they are poor, often uneducated, or educated but without jobs. They are therefore quick to react to anything that upsets them, especially if it is falsely circulating information about opposition politicians who they see as their saviour from a government that has not responded to their needs over a very long time.

Sherine El Taraboulsi – McCarthy Moderator

Thank you for your comment. You have identified a number of factors that create a fertile ground for disinformation to thrive - poverty, unemployment, political conflict and limited education. You also mentioned "unregulated" media outlets. Could you please explain further? How do you propose that media gets regulated? And by whom?  

Ssanyu Rebecca

Sherine El Taraboulsi – McCarthy the question of media regulation is an interesting one. We have laws that are supposed to regulate how media is used but the scope of these is typically narrowed to acting as watch dogs for political opponents, to the extent that every little thing that they communicate especially via social media is interpreted to be anti government. Because of this, we find that there is a form of rebellion among the population towards laws and policies that are intended to regulate the media. We generally perceive this as an encroachment on our freedom of expression and an excuse for political persecution of those who speak out.

Sherine El Taraboulsi – McCarthy Moderator

Ssanyu Rebecca  Herein lies the conundrum: To regulate or not to regulate. It is a very contentious issue and as you said, depends on how the regulation happens. In the UK, we have witnessed the emergence of platforms like FullFact that specialise in identifying and countering disinformation. Do you see this model working in Uganda and other countries where civil society essentially takes it upon itself to address the roots of disinformation? Or is it that government engagement is necessary since often they are part of the problem? 

Sheikha H

Question 2 

This is a prevailing issue in the Middle East but put simply;

Disinformation in Egypt predominantly used to convince civilians their government decisions is for the best. However, a lot of the time, the topic of discussion is Qatar and enforcing stereotypes about their government and people. This type of disinformation has taken place in support of the decision of Egypt and most gulf countries to blockade Qatar. Qatar is portrayed either condescendingly in the media or with an emphasis that they have an agenda set out against Egypt. The means that this information is spread is through almost all forms of media even in political caricatures. And so it seems that there was no specific audience but only to spread these misconceptions to everyone. The issue here is that these governments have torn families apart through the banning Qataris from entering their countries and the spread of false information so that even if they do visit, they will often face particular level scrutiny.
 

Sherine El Taraboulsi – McCarthy Moderator

Thanks, Sheikha, for the comment. You have rightly noted how disinformation not only contributes to divisive politics between states (as in the case of the Qatar blockade) but it also has adverse implications on people's lives. What are the sources of disinformation though? State media? Online media? Or a combination of both? Does disinformation operate differently in Qatar? 

Sheikha H

In Qatar, it seems that there isn’t as wide a variety of tv stations as there are in Egypt, and they all have similar views. However, in Egypt, journalism uses almost all methods of publishing to spread disinformation. The one that interests me the most is political caricatures. It is a simple way to spread the message and emphasise on stereotypes through satire. Satire and comedy is a big part of modern Egyptian culture that is used to also convey political issues with hosts such as Bassem Youssef who had to shut down his program later. His program was very popular because of the way he conveyed the political matters and thus so are caricatures (which also use humour). Which drawings usually following the theme of describing Qataris as stout and wealthy and then adding whichever message later. For example, the country is small or that they lack intelligence etc. Caricatures are a simple way to spread the message. 

Sherine El Taraboulsi – McCarthy Moderator

Sheikha H  you make a fascinating point here about the centrality of disinformation medium or technique. How disinformation is conveyed matters and warrants close attention, actually as much as we focus on the message itself. I've seen really passionate videos in Libya and Yemen where popular TV presenters spoke about Covid-19 as a conspiracy by the Muslim Brotherhood or some other political faction. There was no evidence to support their claims but it was effective in that they got the message through. Caricatures, as you said, work because they are simple and reach a wide audience irrespective of level of education.  

Larriza Thurler

Questions 1 and 5:
In Brazil, we have a lot of disinformation spreading about Covid-19, ranging from false news related to treatment alternatives, manipulated government data, to conspiracy theory about the virus. That is really impacting the awareness of the population about Covid-19, so we see people behaving as if the vaccine is already ready and disseminated. Mostly of the false information spreads through WhatsApp videos, audios and memes. It's relevant to point what is not true and to make tech companies and government accountable for that. Democracy is being heavily affected. 

Sheikha H

That is interesting because this sounds like a very similar situation to Egypt, where people have not been taking it seriously at all and continually meeting in crowded places. This is also in some ways encouraged by the government to promote more economical flow. Still, it is worrying since there is no particular update on the situation relating to COVID or the exact number of cases. Are the numbers of COVID patients being published in Brazil relatively accurately by the government? Also, do you feel that these conspiracy theories that lead to disinformation is government related or is it posted by civilians? 

Larriza Thurler

Sheikha H  Brazilian Government tried to delay the pandemic number publication, so the main TV news program would not be able to disseminate them; it decided not to give total death numbers; the data portal went out for couple of days; and in the data site recovery numbers are bigger than the other ones. The media and population reacted to that, media companies created a consortium to consolidate all state numbers, and the government gave up. But we still have an interim Minister of Health, that follows the President instructions... 

Niamh Hanafin Moderator

Larriza Thurler I would love to hear you say more about this response in Room 3 where we are looking at solutions to disinformation, if you have a moment. The idea of media synergy to present the same information across multiple sources has proven very effective in electoral settings for example.  It would be fascinating to explore this as a potential solution to disinformation also.  

Ema M Fong Moderator

Aloha Larriza,

Thank you for the overview of how disinformation on COVID-19 regarding its treatment, manipulated government data, and conspiracy theories have impacted the populations' level of knowledge of the virus. Could you please go to room 2 and discuss the question below to get a better understanding of the drivers of disinformation and the key actors that spread it and amplify on social media, print media, radio, or by word of mouth.

Thank you, we appreciate the time and the effort.

Warmest aloha, Ema

Q1 "In your country/community, what are the primary sources and motivations driving the creation and sharing of disinformation? Who are the “super spreaders” of disinformation, those who have sufficient influence and following to amplify on and offline?"

 

Claire Pershan

Hello! At EU DisinfoLab, we approach the problem of dis and misinformation as holistically as we can across different digital spaces and media sources, drawing in particular on open source investigative research techniques (OSINT). Our focus isn't just on Belgium, where we are based, but across Europe. We've been recently researching the presence of disinformation and conspiracy theories on crowdfunding platforms: https://www.disinfo.eu/publications/how-covid-19-conspiracists-and-extr…

 

We also maintain a hub of resources related to the Covid-19 'infodemic' here:

https://www.disinfo.eu/coronavirus

Sherine El Taraboulsi – McCarthy Moderator

Thank you. Are there any particular insights emerging from your research on disinformation that you can share here? It is interesting that you are looking comparatively across Europe. Could you give examples on how disinformation is practiced differently in different cultures/contexts/societies? For example, there seems to be a correlation between level of education and socioeconomic background and susceptibility to disinformation (good education as an antidote to disinformation), is that the case in your analysis? 

Niamh Hanafin Moderator

Claire, thank you for sharing these resources, we are of course very interesting to hear Disinfolab's experiences in this field. It would be great if you could share your learning in the monitoring and research area in Room 2 of the discussion.  We would like to understand better how to do this well, and how effective monitoring and research can help mitigate risk. Your thoughts would be very valuable.

Vrouyr Joubanian

At the present moment, people in Lebanon have an ambivalent relationship with the sectarian political system, this ambivalence has proven to be the perfect storm for the proliferation of misinformation about COVID-19. On the one hand, in the face of growing popular uprisings against the ruling class, a severe economic crisis, mismanagement, corruption, and catastrophic explosion, the majority of the Lebanese society is increasingly discontent with the political state quo. On the other hand, the dominant political parties and their affiliated religious organizations provide essential social services to the country’s many vulnerable citizens.

At the same time that many people are distrustful of the government and its leaders, they also depend on them to survive Lebanon’s many concurrent crises. Given the lack of trust in the government as a whole and the dependance on individual political and religious parties, people are foregoing universal guidelines and safety measures in favor of individual messaging attached to their existing social networks (e.g. area-based social media groups). On top of this, many people priortize the political and economic crises over the pandemic and act accordingly, often disregarding health guidelines in favor of returning to social and economic life. In these cases, people seeks out and take advantage of the abundant misinformation to justify their preexisting priorities, habits, and behaviors. This is evident in the fact that people often admit knowing that Facebook and WhatsApp — the two most common channels of misinformation — are untrustworthy, but still seek them out for confirmation bias.

Niamh Hanafin Moderator

Vrouyr Joubanian the Lebanon context is particularly challenging with multiple crises unfolding on top of each other.  Given the current mapping work of the Accelerator Lab, I would encourage you to contribute your learning to Room 2 of the discussion when you have a moment. 

Emily Lanzer

Question 1 and 5

Similarly to Larriza, here in the UK there is a lot of disinformation spreading about the coronavirus, especially at the beginning of the pandemic when not as much was known about the disease. False information about the way it was transmitted, where it originated, how to know one has it and treatment was widely circulated through social media platforms (such as Instagram, WhatsApp, Facebook and TikTok) as well as orally. Along with the government’s rather unclear and inconsistent advice, I believe this exarcebated the anxieties of the population about what was happening and contributed to elements of panic in Spring when many bulk bought from supermarkets leading to shortages of certain items. Along with this, a lot of anti-Asian ‘’jokes’’ circulated, resulting in an anti-Chinese sentiment and behaviour, such as not ordering from Asian restaurants, and outright racism towards people of Asian descent. I believe no one is immune from buying into some sort of disinformation viewed or heard, however cautious one might be. As we are bombarded with a constant flow of information, this sometimes makes it hard to decipher what to trust and believe. The role of the state, therefore, in providing consistent and clear information is vital.

Jennifer Mceneaney Moderator

Mid week 1 overview: 

Many thanks to all for participating so far in the problem analysis of disinformation!

There's been some excellent points raised, firstly by Yazeed Al Jeddawy regarding the role of digital technology and how it can restrict civic space as well as expand it. There were comments from an anonymous member and Ssanyu Rebecca on how disinformation can be weaponised for political gain, both against political candidates and by governments against activists. It would be great to hear from participants about how the targeting and impact can be gendered.

Thanks to Sheikha H, Vrouyr Joubanian and Emily Lanzer  who, among other things, drew attention to the role and responsibilities of citizens in addressing disinformation; the impact of low levels of education and information literacy can have on disinformation consumption (especially in more subtle mediums such as comedy/satire); and how citizens can use disinformation to their advantage in choosing not to adhere to social distancing restrictions.

Thanks to almost all contributors for drawing attention to the damaging impacts on social cohesion of disinformation both between different groups within a national context, and between countries.

Marte Hellema

Dear all, 

Thank you for all that have already shared their thoughts and insights. It has been really insightful to read. 

I think one of the most worrisome trends is the increase in instances where disinformation is intentionally used to spread hatred and incite violence. Across the world, we have seen examples of how that has led to increasing polarization, and in different instances this has led to intensification and escalation of prejudices against particular groups or communities. In other cases, this has even taken the shape of organized and long-term hate propaganda campaigns against minority groups. Particularly dissenting voices have been victimized by such practices, including particularly media and human rights defenders. 

While there have been attempts of addressing this trend - including through fact-checking, trainings, all the way to Internet shut downs - but I am not sure we have really found ways to truly address this yet. 

Would be really interesting to hear more insights on how this has been done. 

 

 

 

Gustavo Gómez

Hola ! América Latina también sufre el impacto de las estrategias deliberadas de desinformación y estamos buscando soluciones para abordar el tema. Consideramos que no hay una única "bala de plata" para resolver el problema y que debemos desarrollar una serie de mecanismos complementarios, que incluyen más educación, verificación de datos, y también más y mejor periodismo.

En nuestra región nos preocupan especialmente los intentos (muchas veces con buenas intenciones) por resolver el problema de la desinformación mediante nuevas legislaciones y penas de prisión que pueden impactar negativamente en el derecho a la libertad de expresión en línea.

También preocupa el creciente papel que tienen las grandes plataformas de Internet sobre los contenidos que publicamos en las redes sociales y la deliberación sobre temas de interés público, asumiendo un papel de "policía privada" que decide, de manera poco transparente y sin garantías de debido proceso para sus usuarios, qué es falso y qué es verdadero.

Un proceso participativo impulsado por la Relatoría para la Libertad de Expresión de la Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos (CIDH) que hemos acompañado desde nuestra organización social OBSERVACOM, se ha elaborado una Guía para enfrentar la desinformación en procesos electorales que puede ser un buen insumo para este intercambio de ideas en la búsqueda de soluciones democráticas. La adjunto a este mensaje.

Sherine El Taraboulsi – McCarthy Moderator

Gustavo Gómez, your point on the flip side of this - the private policing of information - is super interesting. Who are the key stakeholders, based on your experience, that should be engaged in the development of those complementary set of measures? And should it be a centralised process (with a designated entity responsible for it) or a decentralised process owned by society as a whole? 

Gustavo Gómez

Sherine El Taraboulsi – McCarthy PNUD y UNESCO deberían promover un diálogo multistakeholder para formular recomendaciones dirigidas a los Estados para la adopción de marcos regulatorios democráticos sobre los límites y las condiciones para la moderación de contenidos de las grandes plataformas de Internet. Empresas como Facebook, Google o Twitter tiene responsabilidades importantes para ayudar a combatir la desinformación pero no pueden (no deben) hacerlo por decisión propia, sin supervisión ni control ciudadano sobre sus políticas.

Yves

Bonjour à tous,

Je suis heureux de faire partie de ce groupe très intéressant dont je salue l’initiative. Je travaille dans la partie est de la République Démocratique du Congo comme coordonnateur média dans l'organisation internationale search for common ground. Ces derniers mois nous avons fait face à une montée phénoménale et inédite des fakenews et autres manipulations d’opinions sur les réseaux sociaux durant l'épidémie d'Ebola et celle de la pandémie Covid10 , et tout cela dans un contexte sécuritaire extrêmement tendu.

Fin 2018 alors que le pays est en pleine fièvre électorale, une dixième épidémie d’Ebola est déclarée à Beni, au Nord Kivu, dans l’est de la RDC considérée comme partie acquise à l’opposition.  La zone est de Beni et ses environs est écartée du processus électoral afin d’éviter la propoagation rapide de l’épidémie dans le reste de la province, ce qui créera la révolte des partis d’opposition et des groupes de pressions tels que les mouvements des jeunes, des femmes et autres structures de la société civile. Les candidats députés aux élections annulées selon les premiers à lancer des discours de haine et encourager la circulation des fakenews sur les réseaux sociaux et surtout  à travers les médias classiques dont la radio et la télévision.

Beaucoup des messages incendiaires ont été relayés contre les équipes médicales de riposte ebola  ainsi que les agences humanitaires accusées d’avoir été achetées par le pouvoir en place pour inoculer le vurus d’Ebola à des habitants afin que cette partie du pays hostile au pouvoir ne puisse pas participer aux élections.  Des manipulations d’images, des sons montés et des faux témoignages ont circulés pendant toute la période du début d’épidémie ; ce qui a provoqué des attaques contre des centres de traitement  qui ont causé la mort des plusieurs soignants, dans les territoires de Beni et Lubero où plusieurs groupes rebelles armés restent actifs.

Avec nos équipes, nous avons travaillé dans un contexte assez particulier avec des journalistes déjà eux-mêmes convaincus par les rumeurs et manipulations politiciennes. Nous avons pu organisé certaines activités assez importantes dont le mapping des groupes innfluenceurs sur les réseaux sociaux facebook et whatsapp qui a conduit sur l’identification des différents administrateurs principaux qui ont été formé sur les astuces principaux de factchecking et gestion des rumeurs. Les journalistes des radios ont quant eux été regroupés en synergie afin de composer une rédaction spéciale qui a lancé un journal spécial diffusé au même moment par toutes les radios.

La lutte contre les fakenews et discours de haine n’a pas été un acquis à 100% mais déjà des débats sur la véracité des certaine infos à travers des questions posées par des membres des groupes restent un aspect positifs .

Actuellement le grand défi reste celui des rumeurs autour de la Covid19 dans cette zone à sécurité volatile où des habitants pensent que le port des cache-nez et masques facilitent l’entrée des groupes rebelles étrangers dans leurs villages car la maladie n’est pas censée exister en Afrique.

Sherine El Taraboulsi – McCarthy Moderator

Thanks, Yves! You make some really good points about the importance to discussing misinformation and disinformation as a means to gain momentum and to raise awareness. You have also spoken about how engaging with journalists has been very useful in this regard. I wonder if there are some issues where misinformation and disinformation can be easily addressed while others may be more difficult (take religion for example)? What has been your experience? 

Niamh Hanafin Moderator

Merci @Yves pour ces réflexions très pertinentes dans un contexte quand même carrément extrême, en termes de pauvreté et conflit violent.  Je me demande, en lisant votre approche, si vous avez pu identifier la source (ou les sources) de ces désinformations ?  Avez-vous essayé de traiter le problème a la racine, ou bien plutôt focaliser sur la sensibilisation des divers groupes dans les communautés pour pouvoir réduire l'impact ou la dissémination.  Quand même on s’est mobilisé après le fait, quand les rumeurs ont été déjà répandus.  As-tu des suggestions de comment être proactif, afin de pouvoir intervenir avant que la situation se dégrade à ce niveau-là ?

Ruth Stewart

So we are in the final stages of a project on misinformation about COVID-19 in Africa in partnership with Africa Check. It includes development of a framework on types of misinformation / risks of misinformation (which is strangely lacking), 3 systematic rapid reviews of the literature, and also an analysis of claims shared with Africa Check since the start of the pandemic. We will be sure to share emerging findings as they evolve over the next few weeks (unfortunately it's a bit early to say much). 

We've also done a survey about misinformation shared on WhatsApp across Africa (300 responses) and are busy analysing them. 

We are very happy to share reports / findings etc soon. (feel free to contact me if you want to receive a copy of the report).

 

Sherine El Taraboulsi – McCarthy Moderator

Fantastic. Please do share your insights and preliminary conclusions with us. Are you also working on disinformation along with misinformation? It would be good to know if you are making a distinction between one and the other in your typology. 

Rachel George

Thanks to all for this important and fascinating discussion. I would be very interested in relation to Q2 around the impacts on women, for example there is some emerging data on the impact of disinformation potentially dissuading women from participation in politics https://www.cfr.org/blog/gendered-disinformation-fake-news-and-women-po…. It would be great to hear from any colleagues on this topic, any evidence or resources in relation particularly to specific social groups.

Jennifer Mceneaney Moderator

Thanks for your comment Rachel! The gendered dimension of disinformation is certainly something we're keen to explore both in how disinformation can be gendered in content, such as the sexual violence messages of many far right extremist groups, and the impact of weaponised disinformation against women in public positions as you've identified. This has can have harmful impacts on democracy and governance as a whole. It would be great if you could share some of the key findings from the research you've included especially in relation to Q2 ('What do you consider to be the most significant impacts or risks of disinformation on the relationship between citizens and the state, or other actors and interests in society?') and Q3 (Are there particular groups or communities being impacted more than others? Why? Do women or youth face any specific repercussions of disinformation?

Yazeed Al Jeddawy

A3: I think youth in particular is the most segment of the population that faces a many repercussions of disinformation. Let alone they are almost the target of All actors who seek to gain power, influence, and dominance. For example, terrorist groups and extremists always gain strength and ability to spread in fragile contexts depending on how many youth they are able to attract, mislead, and recruit. They adapt to a context as they either depend on high rates of illiteracy or on the collective resentment and distrust within the youth of a certain community to determine how they can get their support through disinformation. 

Youth do, moreover, pay the highest price in armed conflicts and war settings. The state media calls upon their strength and patriotism to defend the 'legitimacy' of the ruler. The opponents on the other camp portray their relentless determination to make the change  as 'invincible'. Or they are often subjected to the oppressions and brutality of the violent regimes because their often seen as trouble makers. 

Even in the more favorable contexts, youth large numbers are needed to support political parties win more seats and more power during elections and referendum. 

In all of the above scenarios all actors use disinformation either as a tool or as  weapon to gain youth support or to curb and discharge their zeal and enthusiasm.  

Jennifer Mceneaney Moderator

Thanks for being so engaged Yazeed Al Jeddawy! The impact on youth is a really important issue and something that was also raised by Ssanyu Rebecca. It would be great to hear from you which are the key online platforms and offline channels through which disinformation is spreading among young people (Q3)? If you have a chance, please do also contribute to the other rooms, especially Room3. It would be great to hear from you and Ssanyu Rebecca how young people are/can be part of the solution to disinformation as well as being impacted by it! 

Ludwwin

En el caso específico de Colombia y de manera similar en algunos países de latinoamérica:

1. La mayoría de desinformación tiene motivaciones políticas que suelen mezclar información real y falsa para favorecer alguna agenda específica. Puede provenir de individuos independientes o de estrategias de comunicación organizadas. También son muy relevantes las publicaciones de entretenimiento que son intencionalmente falsas para que sean compartidas por figuras públicas con el fin de ridiculizarlas.

2. Instrumentalizar las redes sociales con desinformación permite manipular comunidades según intereses privados que son difíciles de identificar.

3. Los jóvenes están más expuestos pero aprenden más rápido a verificar información. Los adultos mayores pueden reiterar más a menudo en compartir información sin verificar.

5. En latinoamérica principalmente Facebook, Twitter y  Whatsapp. 

Whatsapp es el más peligroso por la dificultad de monitoreo, descentralización y anonimato.

6. Ya es común que las cuentas de figuras políticas tengan miles de cuentas falsas que empujan tendencias artificiales. Estos problemas de difusión de información se han normalizado y desde hace más de cinco años no han habido regulaciones o procesos legales ejemplares que desincentiven la desinformación en la región.

Sherine El Taraboulsi – McCarthy Moderator

Ludwwin, thanks for the comment. You and Yazeed make quite important points about how youth are particularly affected by disinformation and that they hold different roles as facilitators of disinformation, sources of disinformation and of course victims. You also make interesting points about how some platforms like WhatsApp are more difficult to monitor than others. Is there a gendered dimension to this too? Would you be able to reflect on that based on your experience and analysis?

Larriza Thurler

Exacto, en Brasil es lo mismo y penso que WhatsApp es el más peligroso también. Facebook debe ser considerado responsable por fake news. 

Anga Timilsina

Very insightful discussion and let me add my two cents. As it has been a major concern during the COVID-19 pandemic, over the past years we have observed that disinformation has become a major threat on trust – both in terms of public trust in institutions and democracy, and also in terms of interpersonal trust among individuals and communities; and on social cohesion – for example, deliberate falsehoods stirring anger and resentment across communities.

These have serious and dangerous implications on democracy, on peace amongst society, and even on health decisions and consequences during a crisis such as COVID-19, which requires trust in government institutions and directions in response to COVID-19, as well as whole-of-society cooperation in tackling the spread of COVID-19.

In today’s digital media environment, the spread of disinformation is often so quick and uncontrolled, that its influence could easily and rapidly manipulate individuals, communities and networks at an unprecedented scale. An important channel of the spread of disinformation is through social media, but increasingly there is a distrust of traditional media such as news outlets, where political actors have a role in influencing/utilising these channels to spread misleading information.

I think there is no single solution to fight disinformation, but a comprehensive approach should include detecting, debunking and countering disinformation and falsehoods; increasing the support and voice of independent media and investigative and data-driven journalism; holding news and media platforms accountable; and a longer-term strategy of advocacy, awareness and education of the public. Every section of society will have a part to play in the collective responsibility of tackling and preventing the spread of disinformation.

Juan Pablo Miranda

This is a very important discussion. From Chile we would want to contribuye with a few reflexion based in our country

1.- In Chile there are multiple ways in which information pollution manifests, either through fake news or highly biased content. Even though the circulation of false or biased information has been a constant in several periods of our history, the rise of social networks has facilitated its production and spread. According to a survey carried out by one of the few studies about the Chilean case, in 2018 75% of people declared that they had heard or read that the side effects of vaccines may be worse than their possible benefits, and 12% considered this information as true. False information has also been spread in the context of the current debate about the constitutional process. For example, in one of the campaigns about the plebiscite to be held on October 25, it was argued that if the Constitutional Convention (constituent assembly) option won, Chile would have two parallel congresses despite the fact that both institutions have different functions and members have different remunerations.

2.-In Chile, one of the most adverse effects of information pollution is the deterioration of public debate. Since sharing false information is associated with political participation in social networks, there are more obstacles to debate and contrast different positions because of wrong or biased notions inside different groups. Information pollution in social networks about political issues also contributes to delegitimize a system that is already highly delegitimized, as is the case in Chile.

3.- In 2017, several rumors spread about the responsibility of the Mapuche people in the start of the forest fires that affected Chile in that year. These rumors were based on a set of prejudices about Mapuche people and their demands. In addition, also a few years ago a rumor spread on social networks about gangs conformed by immigrants kidnapping children out of schools. Chile has experienced a rapid increase in its immigration rates in recent years, which has contributed to generate or strengthen prejudices about migrant population. In this way, information pollution can contribute to strengthening prejudices and hostile attitudes towards historically discriminated groups in the country.

4.-The media in Chile have adopted a relevant role in combating information pollution, through platforms designed to check news, public figures statements, and a wide range of information circulating on different platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.

5.-There are not many studies that allow us to determine the offline channels through which information pollution is shared. However, in Chile, as in many countries, the online platforms where news and information are shared the most are twitter, Facebook, instagram and whatsapp. A less studied and therefore less monitored platform due to its short existence is TikTok.

Sherine El Taraboulsi – McCarthy Moderator

Thank you. You make a number of important points here especially with regards to how disinformation increases the vulnerability of minority groups. You also mention that there are few studies that look at the transferability of disinformation from the online to the offline world. Do you think there are offline channels that can compete with the popularity of online channels? Could also reflect on the last question: Is disinformation a significant governance concern?  Has a prevalence of disinformation impacted any national regulatory/policy framework and intervention? In what way? What are the implications of that?

Juan Pablo Miranda

Sherine El Taraboulsi – McCarthy 

Hi Sherine. Is very hard to imagine an alternative offline channel that compete with social media, specially in the amount and speed of information shared. About the second question, currently Chile is experiencing a historic constitutional process and the consecuences of the global pandemic. In both process we have observed how disinformation is interfering with public discussion. So yes, disinformation is a significance governance concern that authorities should prioritize

 

Nancy Arias

Respecto a la pregunta 3-¿Hay grupos o comunidades en particular que se ven más afectados que otros? ¿Por qué? ¿Las mujeres o los jóvenes enfrentan repercusiones específicas de la desinformación?
Como docente me preocupa la desinformación en los/as adolescentes y jóvenes. La automatización de la recepción de mensajes es más fuerte en este grupo social y la escuela debe liderar el desafío de desarrollar en sus estudiantes habilidades relacionadas al pensamiento crítico y a la participación ciudadana. Educar para dispuntar sentido en esta cultura digital implica brindar a nuestros/as estudiantes las herramientas necesarias para reconocer y contrarrestar los procesos de desinformación. Tanto en lo referente a la sobreinformación que genera infoxicación como frente a las llamadas fake news. La crisis de credibilidad que atraviesan distintas instituciones y discursos (el político, el científico, el escolar, el periodístico) afecta el derecho a la información y al acceso a los saberes que constituyen la herencia cultural de nuestras juventudes. En un contexto de cultura digital donde las tecnologías y los vínculos que creamos con ellas reconfiguran el mundo posible, considero que una manera eficaz de hacer uso de los márgenes de libertad que las interfaces tecnológicas van mellando es una alfabetización comunicacional que permita a los/as jóvenes hacer escuchar su voz, que los/as habilite a participar de la conversación mundial y a hacer escuchar sus deseos, sus ideas y sus proyectos haciendo uso para ello de sus lenguajes y sensibilidades.

Niamh Hanafin Moderator

Hi Nancy, I agree with you that education is a big part of the solution.  Have you seen any curriculum that has covered these issues, or effective ways of integrating this kind of content into the education system? We would be really interested to learn from those. 

Sherine El Taraboulsi – McCarthy Moderator

Week One Summary

Dear all,

Thanks so much for a very productive week! I have really enjoyed the discussion and see that there are a number of areas that warrant closer examination and thinking. Contributors have touched upon a number of important points. Kindly find below a quick summary: 

  1. Mis/disinformation are often driven by politics and political interests (Vrouyr Joubanian, Ssanyu Rebecca & Yazeed Jeddawy) with serious consequences such as inciting violence (Marte Hellema) and harm to social cohesion (Anga Timilsina & Yazeed Jeddawy). Disinformation can be weaponised for political gain, both against political candidates and by governments against activists (Ssanyu Rebecca). They have a divisive effect on state-society relations overall, especially on trust within society and between society and the state. The impact of mis/disinformation on managing Covid-19 has been significant (Larriza Thurler).  
  2. Digital technology is a double-edged weapon. In Yemen, it has restricted the civic space as well as expand it (Yazeed Jeddawy). Citizens, too, have responsibility towards educating themselves and countering the adverse implications of mis/disinformation (Emily Lanzer).
  3. Not everyone is impacted equally by mis/disinformation. Age group, gender, socioeconomic background, political affiliation, religious beliefs all matter. Youth are particularly affected by disinformation and that they hold different roles as facilitators of disinformation, sources of disinformation and victims.  (Yazeed al-Jeddawy and Ludwwin).  
  4. How information is delivered matters (Sheikha H.) and the popularity of online channels is context-specific. Whatsapp seems to be quite popular in a number of countries including Nigeria (Olabisi Oduwole). Offline channels are also important (such as word of mouth as pointed out by Olabisi Oduwole), are under-researched and warrant closer analysis (Juan Pablo Miranda Orrego).
  5.  The gendered dimensions of disinformation and misinformation need closer analysis. There is some emerging data on the impact of disinformation potentially dissuading women from participation in politics (Rachel George).
  6. There are a number of tools that have been developed to counter misinformation and disinformation (Ruth Stewart) but a holistic approach that includes multiple mechanisms to countering mis/disinformation is needed. An overreliance on independent fact checking could result in “private policing” of information and harm freedom of expression (Gustavo Gómez).

Looking forward to further engaging with you on this next week. 

Have a great weekend! 

Fidele Munezero

This morning I woke up one an online newspaper “Broadcastghana” that my country Rwanda has appointed a 19-year old as the “Minister of New Technologies and Development. This would not make sense to me as I get notifications about currents trends in Rwanda from trusted sources in a timely manner. The newspaper went ahead and explained a lot about the young minister; all…fake. In a bunch of comments, readers believed the news and have diverse points but only one person commented that the news was fake. I suspect he was not the not one who realized the news was fake, but he was the only one to stand out and write down the comment. We need that courage to stand for the truth.

Dina Mansour-Ille

I fully agree! The main problem though is that a lot of people don't know what the 'truth' is but think that they know and share an opinion on that basis. Misinformation is sometimes not based on any motive, but rather sheer lack of knowledge and ignorance. Given that it has become relatively easy to disseminate information, especially online, we need more fact checking tools and awareness raising on the importance of checking 'facts' before sharing 'convictions' and selling them as facts. We need to raise awareness on responsible reporting, news sharing and media engagements online.

Ema M Fong Moderator

Aloha Fidele,

Can you say more about what you Q1: consider to be the most significant impact or risk of this type of disinformation on the relationship between the citizens and the state? And also, in your opinion (Q 4) what is the impact on mainstream media, on the journalists, and on public trust or lack of? Other than leaving comments calling out the media has any work been done on educating the public on the harms of disinformation. If yes, could you please let us know in room 3: The Path Forward: forging effective solutions and partnerships? If not, but if you have any ideas or recommendations we would love to hear from you. Also, in room 3.

Warmest aloha and thank you for your time, Ema

Zafar Gondal

UNDP's role in media, freedom of information, and credible information that also includes transparency, openness, inclusion and participation is important. The national governments are denying freedom of information and limiting through national laws. UNESCO does not have a presence in countries and does not work with justice institutions-law making, prosecution, police, and judiciary. This advantage is for UNDP only. However, we must closely collaborate with the private sector and UNESCO.

Ema M Fong Moderator

Aloha Zafar,

 Thank you for your comments. Could you please say more about the national governments that you are speaking of meaning identify them in your analysis? Could you also include a response to Q1: What disinformation is strongly manifesting in [the countries you identified]? If you don't mind could you also respond to Q2: What do you consider to be the most significant impacts or risks of disinformation on the relationship between citizens and the state, or other actors and interests in society?

Thank you again for taking the time to participate in the consultation project by UNDP & UNESCO.

Warmest aloha, Ema

Dina Mansour-Ille

What an interesting discussion and topic! I would generally say that the problem of disinformation nowadays is that it has developed beyond being political.

In relation to Q1, I can say that in the UK, this has been particularly demonstrated in light of the coronavirus pandemic and the polarisation that occurred in the aftermath of the lockdown. A significant segment of the society genuinely believes in the disinformation that they have been disseminating on social media on the coronavirus and they are neither motivated by political or other social or economic motivations.

This is mainly because the information on the pandemic has not been consistent - mainly due to the lack of knowledge on the virus and the political and economic pressures that the different governments have been struggling with worldwide. The youth, who have been particularly impacted by the lockdown and imposed restrictions, have been increasingly vocal in disseminating and spreading whatever information that supports alleviating these restrictions. In addition, the human and financial toll of the lockdown and virus has led some people to disseminate disinformation that eludes to a government conspiracy. That leads me to Q2.

What I particularly witnessed in recent months in the UK (and even a country like Egypt that has been witnessing less restrictions), is a significant crack in the trust between state and society, and within the one society. While the state is struggling with its own political and economic pressures in dealing with the pandemic, citizens who have suffered as a result of the lockdown, especially financially, are becoming easy prey to disinformation on social media. Today’s, social media landscape makes it quicker, easier and cheaper to spread disinformation. I personally have witnessed a lot of polarisation online on the severity as well as the very existence of the virus. Families and friends joined different camps and are using social media to share and support their own position on the pandemic, divisions are widening and fragmentation within the one society and towards the state is becoming more pronounced, especially that the virus has touched everyone on a global scale. You cannot choose not to be part of this conversation.

In relation to whether certain communities are being impacted more than others (Q3), I wouldn’t say that women have been particularly affected. What I would, however, say is that youth and migrants have been particularly affected by the spread of disinformation on the coronavirus. As mentioned earlier, youth have been feeling particularly impacted by the restrictions imposed by the pandemic and as a result they have been struggling with the lack of consistent and confirmed scientific information on the virus. We have as a result witnessed a lot of young people going down on the street to protest the rise of what they perceive as authoritarianism in different Western democratic societies. More recently, we have also witnessed that migrants or citizens of a migration background (e.g. Turkish or Arab communities in Germany) being blamed for the rise in the number of cases in different ‘hotspots’ in Europe. For example, in Germany it has been said that due to the fact that some migrant cultures like to have big wedding parties, their ‘irresponsible partying’ has a result contributed to further spreading the virus. In effect, the virus is being used as tool to criticise the cultural practices of certain communities. The same has been witnessed with criticising the lifestyle of youth in contributing to the spread of the virus – this has been at the heart of the recent articles being disseminated on lockdowns witnessed in many university campuses today.  

In terms of the impact on mainstream media (Q4/5), as is the case with any controversial topic, this obviously leads to the typical ‘us’ versus ‘them’ approach in information sharing. With the coronavirus pandemic, however, there is an inherent problem of what information is being shared. In many instances, unsubstantiated ‘facts’ are being shared to support a government decision and position by notable news media outlets – only to be retracted days later. These are used to fuel more controversial discussions and disinformation on social media. One the one hand, this has led to a mistrust in mainstream media in general when it comes to the virus, and the misuse of information to spread disinformation on social media on the other.

Finally, in relation to Q6, beyond the coronavirus pandemic, disinformation has always had a significant governance concern. The spread of disinformation is never without motive – at least at the outset. Mostly, it starts on the back of a political motive and spreads based on a combination of political and other economic and social motivates within a particular community. Usually governments and other political actors react to such disinformation with different means – either with initiating counter-campaigns, policies or by imposing more restrictions to maintain control over the implications of the spread of such information. But governments have also engaged (and continue to do so) in expensive media campaigns employing different means (social media being only one of them) to spread disinformation themselves. An interesting example has been the Chernobyl disaster and how both the government and KGB have engaged in different tactics to control and manipulate the spread of disinformation to protect the reputation of the Soviet Union. And this is just one of the many examples found in history in this regard.

Ema M Fong Moderator

Aloha Dina,

Fantastic overview. Thank you for addressing all of the questions in room one (1) specific to your context in response to disinformation on COVID 19 and how it has impacted the UK. I am especially interested in learning more about your response to Q4 & Q5, and I would like to suggest that you continue the discussion in room two (question 2) to learn if there are any trusted news sources among the different groups and if so what are the criteria for trusting these sources? Additionally (question 5) asks what kind of monitoring can provide effective early warning or risks of potentially harmful disinformation?

Thank you very much for your time and participation - your voice and voice of others will help UNDP| UNESCO seek for solutions to the disinformation global crises.

Warmest, Ema

 

Ema M Fong Moderator

Aloha Everyone,

Welcome to week two of the UNDP-UNESCO consultation on disinformation. My name is Ema, and I am a peacebuilder and consultant for Search for Common Ground. I worked as the National Peace Advisor, Senior Trainer, and the lead in Psychosocial Trauma in Nigeria for close to seven years.

I will be working as the moderator for room 1 this week encouraging you to respond to the one, some or all of the questions listed above and also encourage you to respond to questions and leave comments room 2 and room 3.

 

Your contributions are not only appreciated but will help shape actions to counter disinformation around the world.

Look forwarding to your comments and questions.

 

Warmest aloha, Ema

 

 

 

Saji Prelis

Thank you for this really important conversation.  There are a ton of great points already made on this threat. I liked @Sherine's Summary of the past week's discussion. Point # 3 particularly stood out: "Not everyone is impacted equally by mis/disinformation. Age group, gender, socioeconomic background, political affiliation, religious beliefs all matter. Youth are particularly affected by disinformation and that they hold different roles as facilitators of disinformation, sources of disinformation and victims."


I fully agree that not everyone is impacted equally.  But don't agree with the supporting point about "Youth are particularly affected by disinformation and that they hold different roles as facilitators of disinformation, sources of disinformation and victims." It negates the very valid point that dis/mis/information impacts everyone differently.  Not all young people are facilitators of disinformation just like not all adults, politicians or women's groups etc are facilitators of disinformation. This inadvertently gives impression young people are troublemakers.  This has led to a dangerous policy panic and castes a wide net on young men as perpetrators and young women at times becoming victims of misinformation campaigns. The Progress Study on Youth, Peace and Security goes into great detail about this and can be found at: https://www.youth4peace.info/ProgressStudy
 

Q 3 asks if there are particular groups that are more impacted.  I would say, it depends on who has access to the sources of disinformation and how quickly those sources saturate a particular audience.  So in some communities word of mouth as misinformation could spread as quickly a facebook post. 

Q 5 asks for what platforms. This is an important question but changes from one location, context and demographic to another. In the coming 5 yrs it is predicted that internet users alongside social media users may grow up to about 5 billion people. They may use very different platforms than today. What's critical to keep in mind is that internet companies that are not bound by national borders need to ensure they are still held accountable to content and are regulated in such a manner that requires them to balance profit with civic responsibility as it otherwise will continue to rip the democratic fabric of our society apart. Therefore, at a minimum, digital literacy (including how to understand and respond to content) should be a basic entry point for any new account holder coming online and the responsibility should be on the social media companies.  Imagine 5 billion people receiving same digital literacy awareness training as they create their profiles!!!  This is the kind of expectation that we should have of such companies and not rely on educators and parents alone to make people digitally informed.  Address it at it's source first. 

Niamh Hanafin Moderator

SP indeed these are very important insights, regarding the perceived role of youth and the tendency to generalise about their role.  I was wondering if you would care to expand on some of your ideas under Q5 in Room 3 where we are discussing potential solutions.  The idea of a basic literacy training as a prerequisite to an online account is very interesting.  We'd love to ensure we capture these are part of our response going forward!

Sherine El Taraboulsi – McCarthy Moderator

Thanks, SP. You make really good points about the need to avoid blanket generalisations regarding youth engagement in mis/disinformation. I agree with you that there is a need for nuance there. Could this also be a question of the evidentiary base upon which this analysis is based? For example, I see a need for much more robust qual. and quantitative analysis on the drivers and manifestations of mis/disinformation. I also think that our definitions of youth are also inaccurate. In a number of countries, youth are actually 30+ because of delayed transitions into adulthood for example, and yet we still refer to youth as 15 - 24 which is way off from the lived reality of this population. 

Ema M Fong Moderator

Aloha Dear SP,

Thank you for your feedback, especially for helping broaden the perspective of how youth (and other individuals) are often viewed and placed into one overarching group.   Resolution 2250 YPS requested the Secretary-General of the United Nations “to carry out a progress study on the youth’s positive contribution to peace processes and conflict resolution." Do you know if the  4000 plus youth involved in the study from over 150 countries have been followed since the 2015 study? Do you know if these youth have contributed to the process of countering disinformation? And, if so, can you say more about this in room three (3). Regarding your response to Q3, do you know if there has been any programming focused on disinformation passed by word of mouth in the communities | villages where folks have less access to social media?  Lastly, in your response to Q5, you mention "digital literacy awareness training." Could you share your thoughts in room three (3) on what this training might look like, given that cultural norms change from context to context?

Thank you again for your input and for taking the time to support the dialogue on disinformation. Warmest aloha, Ema 

Shabnam Moallem

Thank you to everyone for sharing thoughtful insights and contributions! It's very interesting to hear all the perspectives on this issue that has really impacted us globally. I will share some additional thoughts on a couple of the questions: 

Q2 - One of the crucial impacts of disinformation on the relationship between citizens and the state that we are seeing amplified in the context of COVID or other emergency situations is that disinformation can often contribute to a lack of trust in institutions and limit the capacity of the state to mobilize the public in support of emergency response measures. States and other powerholders can try to use disinformation to build support or weaken their rivals, but they should realize that while they may benefit in the short term, the loss of public trust in institutions can limit their ability to inform the public on necessary safety measures in times of crisis. For example, in the US the level of disinformation around the COVID-19 virus is so high that the public has lost trust in the government and many are not complying with safety measures implemented by the state. 

Q3 - As it has been highlighted by others, different people are impacted differently by misinformation. While we may see youth as the most active online and in some ways more impacted by disinformation in this space, because of their higher proficiency with the online space than previous generations, they are also the best placed to address and counter disinformation. Search for Common Ground has see great impacts working with youth in Sir Lanka, Myanmar, and Kyrgyzstan to train them on social media and how to use it as tool to promote peace and social cohesion and address hate speech and disinformation. When we are thinking about "impact" I think we should think more broadly, beyond who is negatively impacted, and recognize who can be mobilized for positive change.

Furthermore, while normally we focus on the spread of disinformation online, and think those highly engaged online as mostly impacted by this, there are a lot of instances that have shown that the often those that have less access to information or are less proficient online are highly impacted. Since traditionally less connected communities now use messaging applications as a primary source of information, they are exposed to disinformation online but don't have access to additional sources or the capacity to validate or investigate the information they receive. They are then more likely to be influenced by disinformation and disinformation that originates online and spreads in messaging applications can then spread by word of mouth directly in communities.

Q4 - Often we see mainstream media legitimizing or promoting disinformation in their reporting. Even if it is not intentional, their choice of words or stories to highlight can often further promote or support rumors. Search for Common Ground has trained journalists around the world on conflict sensitive reporting, including addressing on rumors and disinformation. Our work in Nigeria showed that often journalists were conflicted by their role to report accurately and the pressure from their editors and media houses to sensationalize or produced biased information. Increasing the capacity of mainstream media, both journalists on the ground and editors/owners of media houses, to recognize how information impacts conflicts and their role within information networks is important to limit the spread of disinformation and its impact.  

Ema M Fong Moderator

Aloha Shabnam,

Thank you for your thought out analysis of questions 3-5. Regarding Q(2), would you be willing to say more in room one QA(1) about what are the primary sources and motivations driving the conflict in the US and who are the "super-spreaders of disinformation?" Additionally, could you also respond to Q5 in the same room about what kind of monitoring could provide EW risks of potentially harmful disinformation. Regarding your response to Q (3) - thank you for pointing out, "when we are thinking about "impact," we need to think about "who can be mobilized for positive change?" Could you please go to room 3, "The Path forward: forging effective solutions and partnerships and address Q(6) about which stakeholders need to be engaged and also the partnerships we need to consider. This is valuable information needed by UNDP | UNESCO & everyone involved in the consultation to help develop sustainable solutions in overcoming disinformation and addressing misinformation. In response to Q(3), you make a great point of how less connected communities are don't have access to verify information online. In West Africa, during the Ebola crises, when someone spread online, you could cure Ebola by consuming large amounts of salt it spread to the villages resulting in 20 deaths. Regarding your response to Q (5), would you be willing to respond to Q (5) in room 3 on the role of journalism and journalism training?

Thank you again, Ema.

 

 

Sherine El Taraboulsi – McCarthy Moderator

Thanks, Shabnam! I think you make a fascinating point about the false correlation between access to social media and getting impacted by mis/disinformation. Could you please elaborate on this point? Could you also give an example? This has important implications on not only how we understand (diagnose) the problem but also in terms of solutions. If it is not just about social media, then a whole-of-society approach would be more appropriate as a way forward, an idea that was suggested earlier in this consultation.  

Yves

Bonjour à tous! 

Se basant de la réalité dans la partie est de la République Démocratique du Congo où je vis, je voulais répondre à certaines de ces questions.

  1. Quelle désinformation se manifeste fortement dans votre pays / communauté? En République Démocratique du Congo, surtout dans la parti est, les principales fausses informations qui circulent sont liées au covid19. La plus part des congolais, selon la stratégie de collecte que nous avons mis en oeuvre, sont convaincus que la covid19 est maladie des blancs car seuls les pays du Nord restent fortement touchés. Certains que les états africains s'alignent juste derrière les pays du Nord pour bénéficier des fonds.

2. Selon vous, quels sont les impacts ou les risques les plus importants de la désinformation sur la relation entre les citoyens et l’État, ou d’autres acteurs et intérêts de la société?

Depuis  la déclaration de la pandémie, la population, peu convaincu par les arguments du chef de l'état s'est laissé drainé dans la rumeur et quasiment perdu la confiance de l'état. les mesures annoncées son presque jamais observés à part la fermeture des frontières. Les dernières révélations sur des soupçons de corruption au sein du ministère de la santé n'on fait qu'accentuer les rumeurs. Les autres conséquences ont du coté de la prise en charge sanitaire car la population est de plus en plus tourné vers l'automédication car nombreux soupçonnent les hôpitaux de vouloir créer des faux cas pour recevoir de l'aide financière.  
 

3. Y a-t-il des groupes ou communautés particuliers plus touchés que d'autres? Pourquoi? Les femmes ou les jeunes sont-ils confrontés à des répercussions spécifiques de la désinformation?

La plus part des rumeurs et désinformations sont véhiculés par les jeunes. La jeunesse est le groupe communautaire le plus touché par ce que les fausses informations sont surtout dans les réseaux sociaux (whattsapp et facebook) et les jeunes sont nombreux à y avoir accès. 

4.Quel est l'impact sur les médias grand public? Sur les journalistes? Sur la confiance du public dans les médias grand public?

La confiance aux médias traditionnels est très très bas. d'une part par ce que les populations accusent les médias d'être achetés par le gouvernement, d'autres part à cause d'existence des plusieurs radios qui emploient des journalistes non formés et peu professionnels qui ne répondent pas aux besoins de l'auditoire et préfèrent restés superficiel. 
5. Quelles sont les principales plates-formes en ligne et canaux hors ligne par lesquels la désinformation se propage couramment?

Les différents groupes whatssaps et facebook sont devenus les principales sources de désinformation. On a aussi constaté que les endroits des grands rassemblements: marché, transport, bar, églises sont aussi des lieux où des rumeurs circulent rapidement. Quelques pasteurs des églises dites de réveil contribuent à la résistance communautaire face à la pandémie en prêchant sur la non existence de la covid19. 

Doruk Ergun Moderator

Hello Yves, thanks for an informative start to the week! Regarding your first point, in the Eurasia region where I work, we have had similar observations on COVID19-related disinformation's stigmatizing impact across ethnic, religious and other divides. I see that Dina has also shared concerns about stigmatization of migrant communities. To give you an example from a country in our region, religious communities returning from pilgrimage were stigmatized through disinformation as secular communities accused them of importing the pandemic, whereas secular communities were stigmatized through disinformation that blamed the pandemic on the prevalence of un-religious practices and claimed pious people would not catch the disease. In this case, disinformation fueled an existing divide and fueled the stigmatization and accusation of both sides.

Has disinformation exacerbated any other divides in your context?

Jamie Hitchen

Hello, 

I have been doing some research in the last 2-3 years on elections and the use of social media, particularly WhatsApp, in Nigeria, Sierra Leone and The Gambia. My reflections draw on these experiences and findings:

I have offered some quick responses to each of the 6 areas below:

  1. I always think it is useful to differentiate disinformation (which for me has a deliberate intention to mislead) with misinformation (which doesn't have to have that deliberate component). A lot of times when people are sharing false content they aren't always doing so with an intention to mislead, rather they believe the content to be true. WhatsApp a key space for disinformation in Nigeria, particularly around political events and elections. Use of real pictures incorrectly labelled, or voice notes, ascribing words to an individual some of the more basic, but still effective tactics
  2. I think that disinformation risks exacerbating existing social tensions in a place like Nigeria. See pp. 20-26 of this report which gives some examples, including one of how a video of farmers sprinkling crops with pesticides was used to create false information that once ethnic group was poisoning another (https://www.cddwestafrica.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Driving-Divisi…). So it can further polarise communities, along things like ethnic lines. Its ability to infiltrate mainstream media, or the way political actors can broadcast disinformation on radio phone-in shows for example are problematic, as in Nigeria we see an increasing blurring of the lines between online/offline media. 
  3. Research in Nigeria has shown that older generations are more likely to be duped, than younger generations of users on applications like WhatsApp - https://qz.com/africa/1688521/whatsapp-increases-the-spread-of-fake-new…. They are less familiar with the technology and the tools available for the creation of disinformation.
  4. One thing we have seen in West Africa is that there is often a rush for journalists to try and get the 'scoop' that they may first find on social media. But that leads to issues where they publish stories before fully verifying whether they are true or not (see the above report on Nigeria for some examples). In Sierra Leone, before the 2018 elections, pictures of peacekeepers arriving in the country (which were actually from c.2001) were spread on social media to ramp up tensions and suggest violence was likely. One daily newspaper printed the picture as its front cover, and the Inspector General of Police had to issue a statement to discredit it - https://africanarguments.org/2018/04/10/the-whatsapp-rumours-infused-si…. Survey work we did in Nigeria around the elections still found that traditional media was used (radio and print) to corroborate information received on WhatsApp (but that was primarily among older respondents). In some of these countries, mainstream media have always had a political bias (either in their reporting or ownership) and so I am not sure its reducing their credibility, but it is perhaps reducing their relevance, among certain demographics (youth) in more urban areas. 
  5. WhatsApp and Facebook are the key applications through which disinformation spreads in Nigeria. WhatsApp groups in particular, which often replicate existing (offline) social structures and networks, are used to spread disinformation both organically (which relies on existing rumour networks being transplanted online -  http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/8389020.stm) and during elections in a more politically organised way (see p.17 of this report - https://www.cddwestafrica.org/nigeria-2019-election/). Use of local languages like Hausa important to flag here, as these very common in northern Nigeria for example, and social media companies lack the capacity to effectively monitor what is being discussed. See this example from Ethiopia which also flags the lack of local language content moderators - https://www.vice.com/en/article/xg897a/hate-speech-on-facebook-is-pushi…
  6. In Nigeria the government has twice tried to introduce a social media bill, which would give the state powers to shutdown the internet and punish those who engage in the spread of disinformation. Both times the Bill has been met by strong opposition form civil society, that is particularly concerned about the way it can be politically instrumentalised to limit freedom of speech that is critical of the government (whichever government is in power) - https://cpj.org/2020/04/an-attempt-to-gag-the-media-journalists-on-nige…
Doruk Ergun Moderator

Hello Jamie,

Thank you for raising these important and illuminating points. Regarding your first point, indeed the terminology continues to evolve (disinformation, misinformation, malinformation, others) and distinctions are quite important. For this consultation, we use a working definition of disinformation to refer to “false, manipulated or misleading content, created and spread unintentionally or intentionally, and which can cause potential harm to peace, human rights and sustainable development”.

It would be great to hear more about your experience on elections and the use of social media. What particular challenges have you observed regarding disinformation during electoral cycles in the contexts that you have worked in?

Also I see that you have raised issues pertinent to our other discussion rooms (particularly Room 2) in your intervention, I am glad to see that you have commented actively in that room as well. Thanks for your active engagement.

Jamie Hitchen

Doruk Ergun thanks Doruk,

I personally find it useful to differentiate between the deliberate intent to mislead (disinformation) and misleading without intent (misinformation). One of the reasons for doing this is that is that if you end up with regulation (which I think has its challenges, and have highlighted these in the contexts where I work in another Room) that used such a definition, someone who creates a piece of disinformation by whatever means would be viewed as being the same as someone who, for example, retweeted a story that they genuinely believed to be true at the time of sharing. With the increasing sophistication of disinformation, I am sure most of us here have been duped at one point by something that turned out not to be true!

In terms of your question about how disinformation is used in elections, the question remains of course about how it potentially impacts on results, and whether it makes people change sides.  One thing we saw in Kano State in Nigeria in 2019 was less that it was used to convince others to change sides, but more to reinforce existing biases; to reaffirm your support base and by creating disinformation about what the other candidate would do, boost your support base turnout. Linked to that, in Kano, which has a history of election violence, there were efforts to reduce opposition turnout. This was done by taking a picture of either actual polling station violence, or pictures from previous elections, and often mislabeling them as being in areas of known opposition support. People saw these pictures and chose not to go and vote, only to find out later that voting had taken place peacefully, but often it was too late. This was not something we 'ran the numbers on' but points to one way disinformation can be used to deliver a particular outcome on an election day. Does that make sense?

Sherine El Taraboulsi – McCarthy Moderator

Jamie Hitchen, thanks for this. Very interesting. The intersection between misinformation and disinformation, and ethnic and religious tensions is really important especially within the context of Nigeria. I did a number of interviews in Northern Nigeria (Kano, Kaduna, Jos, Maiduguri) in 2015 with religious leaders (Sufi, Sunni, Salafi/Izala) and social media back then not once emerged in the interviews. Information moved in traditional ways mostly and/or through mainstream media. It is interesting that this has changed. Would you say that social media has changed how local religious/ethnic leadership engage with the societies they live in? Is that where mis/disinformation get power?  

Jamie Hitchen

Sherine El Taraboulsi – McCarthy 

I think its still important to stress that information still moves in these traditional ways, but I think that the overall of traditional and social/online media is interesting. There was a study from Uganda that highlights this crossover - https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0163443719900353.

And this crossover exists between offline and online content too. By that I mean a religious leader could receive something on his/her personal WhatsApp and not only share that information online, but also convey that message to an offline audience during a sermon. And then that information permeates through existing word of mouth networks etc.

I think social media, is not necessarily fundamentally shifting the way societies interact, but adding another layer to the existing information eco-system. One that is faster, and less controlled!

Alejandro Chaves

Hola a todos.

Soy Alejandro de Colombia. He trabajado durante los últimos 3 años en diferentes entidades públicas y de la sociedad civil desarrollando estrategias contra la desinformación. Espero que mis contribuciones puedan servir.

Q1

En Colombia, de manera general, el uso recurrente de noticias descontextualizadas, noticias falsas y montajes con diversas finalidades, cuyos canales de masificación son las redes sociales, medios de comunicación tradicionales e individuos con capacidad de influencia en la opinión pública. En general, esta dinámica se está utilizando crecientemente, no sólo para desinformar, sino para manipular seguidores, aniquilar contradictores y ganar mayores espacios.

Preponderantemente, el fenómeno de las noticias falsas y la desinformación se percibe en el ámbito político, teniendo fuerte incidencia en otros asuntos como el de la salud pública o la movilización social. Esto, enmarcado dentro de una coyuntura de fuerte polarización, descontento social y baja credibilidad en el papel que desempeñan las instituciones, sumado a la crisis sanitaria que en el caso colombiano ha generado alto impacto.

Q2

Por un lado, la polarización, radicalización y estigmatización en el debate público está generando violencia entre los diferentes actores, sea verbal o física, y en todo caso alejando la oportunidad para los verdaderos debates.

 

En segundo lugar, la proliferación de desinformación socava el derecho de la ciudadanía a participar en los procesos democráticos decidiendo a partir de hechos objetivos e impidiendo el ejercicio libre de sus derechos políticos. Adicionalmente, el histórico de participación de la ciudadanía en los procesos electorales en Colombia ha sido bajo, teniendo en cuenta diferentes factores como los bajos niveles de cultura democrática y baja credibilidad en las instituciones; esto tiene incidencia en el hecho de que la ciudadanía no cuenta con las herramientas para manejar correctamente el flujo indetenible de información (verdadera, falsa y confusa) y, en consecuencia, no logra tomar decisiones de manera asertiva en el plano democrático. 

 

Finalmente, aquellos actores de la sociedad que privilegian el uso de desinformación para alcanzar seguidores y multiplicadores de información, son conscientes de tal capacidad limitada de la mayoría de colombianos para verificar información y, en consecuencia, utilizarla para una mejor toma de decisiones, razón por la cual llegar a transmitir e interiorizar mensajes en la población que es más manipulable, es una tarea cada vez más fácil. 

Q3

A nivel general, la desinformación ha causado un incremento en los niveles de apatía e interés por los asuntos de interés público en la ciudadanía, lo cual es grave en una democracia, toda vez que día a día se necesitarán esfuerzos y recursos de mayor envergadura para impactar en esos altos niveles de apatía, de lo contrario, cualquier acción ejecutada por el poder público será percibida como ilegítima y, en consecuencia, la bola de nieve en la que nadie cree en nada (sin importar si es beneficioso o no para la sociedad) seguirá creciendo. 

 

Por otra parte, la población joven es un actor afectado por la desinformación. Al ser ellos quienes tienen a la mano un mayor número de dispositivos inteligentes, redes sociales y, en consecuencia, un alto flujo de información que, en condiciones normales, no tienen capacidad de discernir, son víctimas de los sistemas de información en la web que implican la redirección del público según lo que quiere ver. Es decir, con la programación de algoritmos en la red, esta lleva a que los usuarios accedan a información de fuentes similares, o ideológicamente afines, dirigiéndolos a contenidos que nutren su opinión en un sentido u otro, sin brindar herramientas para acceder a información de fuentes divergentes o neutrales. 

 

Para el caso de la mujer colombiana, la desinformación puede ser consecuencia de altos índices de desigualdad frente al acceso al conocimiento y reducido acceso a espacios o escenarios de formación política, democrática y de derechos humanos, lo que impide la construcción de una visión crítica e informada frente a los contenidos provenientes de los medios a los que tienen acceso. 

Q4

En primer lugar, hemos visto cómo algunos medios de comunicación principales en Colombia han reproducido información falsa o confusa, generando posteriormente una visión negativa sobre su labor periodística en los consumidores de información, lo cual genera inevitablemente un impacto sobre la credibilidad y confianza que la ciudadanía pueda asignar a los medios de comunicación y periodistas que producen información de calidad. 

 

Por otra parte, son también visibles numerosos ataques, basados en desinformación, a diferentes medios de comunicación y periodistas, a quienes se les cuestiona su labor periodística e informativa al ser relacionados con grupos políticos, religiosos e incluso al margen de la Ley para deslegitimar su trabajo. Este tipo de ataques generan un impacto en la credibilidad del medio de comunicación y del periodista que, incluso después de desmentir la información falsa, es muy complejo recuperarla. 

 

Además, es notoria una pérdida de espacio generalizada de los medios de comunicación, debido a la digitalización de contenidos. También  podría hablarse en algunos casos de eventos en los cuales se deja de investigar en las fuentes originarias para obtener la información de las redes. 

 

Respecto de la confianza del público en los medios, dependerá de cada uno de ellos, de la seriedad para enfrentar estos retos. Si mantienen su profesionalismo en esos momentos, podrán capitalizar y obtener un mayor reconocimiento. Pero si ceden al facilismo, a obtener como únicas fuentes lo que encuentren en las redes, perderán la confianza del público en general.    

Q5

La plataforma de Twitter, Facebook y la red de mensajería privada de WhatsApp 

Q6

La desinformación sí es un problema de gobernanza muy relevante, teniendo en cuenta que el impacto que genera en la población limita inevitablemente la capacidad de ejecución de políticas públicas por parte de los gobiernos en todos los sectores. Además, los crecientes niveles de apatía en la ciudadanía, producto de la desinformación, son causantes de que la toma de decisiones por parte del poder público sea percibida como ilegítima, generando efectos devastadores sobre la percepción de los niveles de desarrollo en el país. 

 

Adicionalmente, la desinformación constituye un riesgo global que ha impactado en el desarrollo y ejecución de los procesos electorales y en la toma de decisiones de los gobiernos. Algunos países no tienen normatividad ni autoridades preparadas para el manejo de la desinformación, lo que genera inestabilidad y conflicto.

 

En el caso colombiano, no existe un marco regulatorio o jurídico dirigido a luchar contra la desinformación, solo acuerdos de voluntades entre las plataformas digitales y algunas instituciones públicas para hacer frente a este fenómeno.  

 

Doruk Ergun Moderator

Thank you for this comprehensive overview Alejandro! Indeed, in Eurasia we also continue to observe the nexus of disinformation and elections with particular concern as disinformation continues to be utilized to feed political polarization. This challenge has grown in the COVID-19 context, particularly when coupled with overall dissatisfaction with the ability of governments to effectively and transparently respond to the pandemic.

I found the point you raised about apathy particularly important, as the challenge that disinformation poses is not just limited to how citizens perceive different political actors and social groups but lose trust in the overall governance architecture, eroding the social contract and social cohesion. Do you think particular groups of citizens are more impacted by apathy that is fueled by disinformation? Are you aware of other vulnerabilities that are further exacerbated by disinformation?

Ema M Fong Moderator

Week Two Summary

Aloha Everyone,

Thank you for your analysis of the impact of disinformation on political and social landscapes, democratic processes, media, marginalized groups, and the general public. We appreciate your time and value your critical and insightful contributions. Please find below a summary of the various points and recommendations that contributors made during week two of the consultation.

In response to Q1: What disinformation is strongly manifesting in your country/community? (1) Disinformation reported on the pandemic was a reoccurring theme in this week's comments. The human and financial toll of the lockdown and virus resulted in disinformation, eluding to a (2) government conspiracy." Additionally, "(3) fake news" was also identified, such as the story printed in an online paper, Rwanda appointed a 19-year old as the "Minister of New Technologies and Development. (4) Responders said that people tend to believe disinformation disseminated on social media mainly due to a lack of knowledge, confirmed and consistent reporting, and political and economic pressures the different governments have been struggling with worldwide.

*Zafar Gondal UNESCO does not have a presence in countries and does not work with justice institutions-law making, prosecution, police, and judiciary. This advantage is for UNDP only. However, we must closely collaborate with the private sector and UNESCO.

In response to Q2: What do you consider to be the most significant impacts or risks of disinformation on the relationship between citizens and the state or other actors and interests in society?  Responders identified (1) disinformation on the pandemic has led to "blaming the spread of COVID" on various migrant groups putting them at risk. (2) the virus is used as a tool by host governments to criticize migrant groups' cultural traditions. For example, in Germany, Arab or Turkish communities are blamed for spreading COVID due to holding big weddings. While the state is struggling with its own political and economic pressures in dealing with the pandemic, (3) citizens who have suffered due to the lockdown, especially financially, are becoming easy prey to disinformation on social media. This effect has resulted in (4) broken relationships, even among friends and family, and a lack of government trust. (5) Citizens of a migration background (e.g., Turkish or Arab communities in Germany) are often blamed for the rise in the number of cases in different 'hotspots' in Europe.

In response to Q3: Are there particular groups or communities being impacted more than others? Why? Do women or youth face any specific repercussions of disinformation? Various responders pointed out that (1) youth are both "victims and hold different roles as facilitators of disinformation." However, SP highlighted that this view "negates the very valid point that dis/mis/information impacts everyone differently. (2)Not all young people are facilitators of disinformation, just like not all adults, politicians or women's groups, etc. are facilitators of disinformation. This view inadvertently gives the impression young people are troublemakers. And, it often leads to a dangerous policy panic and casts a wide net on youth as perpetrators and young women at times becoming victims of misinformation campaigns." Shabnam Moellum also noted that rather than just looking at what groups are impacted the most, we need to examine what groups are actively participating in countering disinformation.

In response to Q4: What is the impact on the mainstream media? On journalists? On public trust in mainstream news outlets? (1) 'Us' versus 'them' approach in information sharing. With the coronavirus pandemic, there is a problem of (2) what information is shared. (3) Unsubstantiated 'facts' are shared to support a government's position by notable news media outlets – only to be retracted days later. The media is used to fuel controversial discussions and disinformation on social media. On the one hand, this has (4) led to mistrust in mainstream media in reporting on the virus, (5and the misuse of information to spread disinformation on social media on the other.

In response to Q5: Which are the key online platforms and off-line channels through which disinformation commonly spreads? The responders identified that dis/ misinformation spread via (1) social media on WhatsApp, Facebook, and Twiter (2) for traditional media, written and televised media, and Shabnam Moellum identified (3) "word of mouth" as key in the spreading of disinformation, especially in communities that are not connected to social media.

In response to Q5: Is disinformation a significant governance concern? Has a prevalence of disinformation impacted any national regulatory/policy framework and intervention? In what way? What are the implications of that? Dina Mansour Ille wrote, "beyond the coronavirus pandemic, (1) disinformation has always had a significant governance concern. The spread of disinformation starts on the back of a political motive and spreads based on a combination of political and other economic and social motivates within a particular community. Usually, governments and other political actors react to disinformation with different means – either by (2) initiating counter-campaigns, policies, or (3) imposing restrictions to maintain control over the implications of the spread of such information. (4) Governments engage in costly media campaigns to spread disinformation to suit themselves. One example illustrated was the Chernobyl disaster and how the government and the KGB engaged in tactics to control and manipulate the spread of disinformation to protect the Soviet Union's reputation. 

--

Week One Summary (Room 1) by Moderator Sherine El Taraboulsi – McCarthy.

Nargiz Guliyeva

Q2

The significant impact and risk of disinformation are radicalization and justification for violence.

First off, disinformation mobilizes groups and creates a cultural bubble that reflects the thoughts of certain groups. Notably, disinformation is not only fake news, but it can also manifest itself in a series of relatable facts misinterpreted in a way that it becomes disinformation. Eventually, disinformation creates a comfort zone for a person and deprives the essence of critical thinking. That phenomenon has been well-described by Frankfurt School in particular in Adorno’s work

The second risk of disinformation is that justifies violence by creating a dichotomy of “us and them”. To this end, one group kind of explains that committing a crime is ok because of XYZ. Interestingly is that those XYZ might be manipulated data. 

Doruk Ergun Moderator

Thanks for these thoughts Nargiz! Regarding your point about the 'us and them' dichotomy, do you think that disinformation exacerbates divides that are already visible at the community level or does it help create these divides in the first place, (or both)? Could you share some of your observations from your context?

Nargiz Guliyeva

Doruk Ergun 

My observation is that the disinformation helps to create those divides in the first place. 

Laura Zommer

Hi all! I am Laura Zommer, Executive director and editor-in-chief at Chequeado. Hope this ideas help us to keep thinking together.

 

2. What do you consider to be the most significant impacts or risks of disinformation on the relationship between citizens and the state, or other actors and interests in society?

Disinformation has a general impact on democracy, as it makes it more difficult for citizens to stay informed and engage in public debate. It also influences the public agenda, shifting the subjects that are discussed, as we have seen in Chequeado during elections and other moments. During the pandemic, however the impacts were much more direct on people's health, and in one of the more dramatic cases a 5 year old kid died when his parents gave him chlorine dioxide, a very dangerous substance that was promoted as a false cure by several disinformations, including a TV host that drank it on television. In that sense, scientific evidence which can be hard to follow and understand in normal times has become much more so with the spread of disinformation, that a lot of time uses pseudo scientific language and makes it even harder to understand evidence. We think that disinformation might have a direct impact, for example, in the confidence people will have in a COVID vaccine, and that might affect the public's health. This is why we believe that fact checking, and giving accurate information is crucial, but we also need to work in educational strategies that allow people to have a more critical approach to the contents they encounter so that they are less inclined to believe and share disinformation that can hurt individuals health and their engagement in the public discussion. 

Doruk Ergun Moderator

Hi Laura, thank you for your feedback. The case of the 5 year old that you shared is a very sad example, a recent study released by the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, around 800 people have lost their lives due to misinformation that highly concentrated alcohol could kill off the virus. You raise a very important point on future impacts, regarding the potential role of disinformation in reducing willingness for vaccination once it becomes available. What other risks are you foreseeing?

In case you have not already, we would also be glad if you could share your suggestions on rooms 2 and 3 focusing on the means/drivers of disinformation and potential solutions.

Doruk Ergun Moderator

Week Three Summary

Thanks for the rich discussion on the third week of our consultations, here are some of the highlights:

  • Yves, Jamie and Alejandro have shared interesting in-depth reflections from DRC, Nigeria and Colombia, please check their comments.
  • Linkages of disinformation with perceptions of vertical trust and good governance have been highlighted, where the absence of trust and perceptions of corruption can create conditions conducive for disinformation to spread easily, as underlined by Yves and Alejandro
  • Exposure to disinformation can also result in apathy and impact social contract, through exacerbating perceptions that decisionmakers are illegitimate and untrustworthy, Alejandro and Yves noted.
  • As Alejandro, Yves and Jamie highlighted, mistrust on traditional media and lack of professional standards in the media also creates vulnerabilities to disinformation. In some contexts, the perception that the media was not independent further undermined trust towards traditional media sources. In some cases, disinformation was also leveraged as a tool to undermine the credibility of specific journalists.
  • Impact of disinformation on exacerbating ethnic, political, social and other divides was highlighted by Yves and Jamie. Nargiz noted that disinformation can help erode critical thinking and expand dichotomies of “us and them”.
  • In election cycles, disinformation can be a powerful tool to reinforce existing biases and divides and it can also be used to discourage people to vote. It also undermines the rights of citizens to participate in democratic processes by clouding individual decisionmaking, according to Alejandro and Jamie.
  • Laura highlighted the intersection of disinformation with the pandemic, noting incidents of disinformation regarding home-made remedies resulting in deaths and underlining the prospect that disinformation about COVID-19 vaccines may also make individuals less likely to get vaccinated in the future.

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Week Two Summary (Room 1) by Moderator Ema M Fong
Week One Summary (Room 1) by Moderator Sherine El Taraboulsi – McCarthy

Orna Young

Hi everyone 

Reading this thread with so much interest. I work with FactCheckNI - Northern Ireland's first and only fact checking organisation.

Have responded to some of the questions here:

 

What do you consider to be the most significant impacts or risks of disinformation on the relationship between citizens and the state, or other actors and interests in society?
The proliferation of mis- and disinformation, particularly on social media platforms, has in effect eroded trust in reliable sources of information. Crucially, it serves to undermine public confidence and further reduce participation, distancing those most in need of engaging with public and policy discourses on issues impacting them. The accuracy of available information is central to the ability of individuals and communities to be encouraged and empowered to engage with debate and the political and policy making realm.

 

What disinformation is strongly manifesting in your country/community?
The onset of COVID-19 means that we are also living through a global health emergency in which the communication of misinformation and disinformation — what has been termed “an infodemic” is literally meaning the difference between life and death. Misinformation/Disinformation on this issue is not confined to specific regions/countries and for that reason, our work has increased greatly. Never before has the quality and accuracy of the information we are consuming mattered on such an immediate and global scale. Given the upheaval COVID-19 has caused, people are understandably worried and looking for answers - this has translated into more disinformation being shared. . To give those answers in a way that informs people appropriately, as fact checkers, we need to understand and establish where this disinformation comes from, and we need to counter these arguments directly with clear, accurate and reliable information.In Northern Ireland, where political/social/economic debate is often delineated along perceived communal affiliation, disinformation has the potential to increase communal division and alienate communities from political processes. While disinformation has always been an issue, its magnification by social media platforms means that it has become central in the currency of our debates and discussions. 

Which are the key online platforms and off-line channels through which disinformation commonly spreads?
In our experience of fact checking, it has been Facebook. This is reflected in research on the topic. Asked about the source of claims they’d seen about face masks/coverings offering no protection or being harmful, Ofcom’s research (Covid-19 news and information: consumption and attitudes Q10i) amongst UK16+ showed that Facebook by far the most prevalent source, measured between 38-43% over the last two months. 81% think that untrue stories or items about Coronavirus should not be posted or shared on social media.And 61% of respondents were concerned about the amount of false or misleading information that others in society may be getting about Coronavirus (from any source), with 37% about the false or misleading information they may have been getting themselves. We have also noted growing sources of disinformation prevalent during the COVID-19 pandemic. Anecdotal evidence suggests WhatsApp (and its associated groups) is experiencing a range of disinformation being informally spread on it amongst groups. 
 

Ema M Fong Moderator

Aloha Orna,

Thank you for the in-depth analysis of the effects of miss and disinformation on regions and countries worldwide. And how this type of information affects the relationship between citizens and the state, along with the key media platforms that spread mis/disinformation. 

We appreciate your time. Thank you again, Ema

Miroslava Sawiris

This feedback is submitted by 10 organizations and civil society initiatives (GLOBSEC, nelez.cz, PSSI, CSD, Res Publica, Semantic Visions, Global Focus, Political Capital, Eastern Europe Studies Centre, DISI) from 6 European countries (Bulgaria, Hungary, Czechia, Lithuania, Slovakia and Romania) joined in the Alliance for Healthy Infosphere.

 

  1. What disinformation is strongly manifesting in your country/community?
  • Disinformation present in the region of Central and Eastern Europe has historically focused on wedge issues, driving polarisation and tensions in the respective countries. The disinformation actors tend to react swiftly to current issues, mirroring the main trending topics in a given time period. These included, for example, migration, annexation of Crimea, conflict in Ukraine or LGBTI rights.
  • However, the situation has become worse and more pronounced since the Covid-19 outbreak (e.g. https://visegradinsight.eu/infodemic-covid19-wake-up-call/).
  • Medical disinformation, once a fringe aspect of disinformation scene, has been catapulted to a centre state, politicised, and caused unnecessary loss of life (https://www.bbc.com/news/world-53755067).
  • Furthermore, political actors now exploit the pandemic to profit from anti-mask movements and 5G conspiracy theories, which can lead to even more deaths and endangering of the successful overcoming of the global pandemic.
  • Recent Avaaz study documents that misinformation content from top 10 websites spreading such messaging had 4 times as many views as information from top 10 health institutions, once again demonstrating that disinformation travels faster than facts and that digital platforms are failing in addressing the crisis. Health hoaxes are part of mainstream discussions as a result of this failure (https://secure.avaaz.org/campaign/en/facebook_threat_health/?slideshow).
  1. What do you consider to be the most significant impacts or risks of disinformation on the relationship between citizens and the state, or other actors and interests in society?
    • Exponential increase of divisive, hyperpartisan, and polarising content on social media has a potential to significantly alter voter preferences, destabilise our societies and decrease public trust.
    • Polarising messaging and conspiracy theories have found their way into political mainstream and far-right public figures benefit from these, while disseminating hate. In Slovakia, extreme-far right Kotleba – ĽSNS party (People’s Party Our Slovakia) managed to build substantial network of Facebook pages, open and closed groups, as well as related webpages to disseminate hateful messaging combined with disinformation and conspiracy theories. As a party represented in the Slovak Parliament, they also use mainstream channels such as appearance in political TV shows to further spread distrust in democratic institutions (https://www.tvnoviny.sk/na-telo/2000418_marian-kotleba-v-na-telo-obhajoval-ze-s-vakcinou-na-covid-19-sa-do-tela-dostane-aj-nanocip )
    • Radicalisation of vulnerable groups of population, especially youth.
    • Intimidation of marginalised and vulnerable groups, particularly with their potential participation in political processes (for example intimidation of female candidates).
       
  2. Are there particular groups or communities being impacted more than others? Why? Do women or youth face any specific repercussions of disinformation?
     
    • Ethnic and national minorities, LGBTI people and refugees are being disproportionately impacted due to the effect of disinformation on the public discourse, attitudes and even political preferences.
    • Disinformation targeting women politicians, or minority public figures often results in a wave of misogynic and threatening messages, which has led in some cases to silencing of their social media presence.
    • Young people, who are digital natives due to their constant presence on social media are particularly vulnerable to polarization and radicalization as a result of rabbit hole effect, documented on several SM platforms.
  3. What is the impact on the mainstream media? On journalists? On public trust in mainstream news outlets?
  • Social media have completely overhauled the traditional media model as news becomes accessed from digital platforms. Not only are reliable sources of information packaged in the same way as personal content from users and disinformation sources, the income generated from ad revenues no longer goes toward financing quality journalism – an essential pillar for any functional democracy.
  • Digital platforms need to be meaningfully regulated and taxed. Income from such taxation should go towards new models of quality journalism funding and such outlets should not be packaged on digital platforms in the same way as all other content.
     
  1. Which are the key online platforms and off-line channels through which disinformation commonly spreads? 
  • Social media platforms (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Youtube, VK) and encrypted messengers (such as WhatsApp, Telegram etc.) play a dominant role in terms of dissemination of disinformation. Not only they amplify content hosted on websites, but also facilitate creation of echo-chambers where like-minded individuals further strengthen their existing biases and attitudes. As relative recent development, the most virulent and toxic discussions have moved to closed groups (on Facebook in particular) and encrypted messengers to evade attention form both the authorities as well as the platform administrators.
  • In some CEE countries, disinformation is being spread also by means of traditional media – printed media, radio or even TV, however, these offline channels are less important in terms of volume and reach.

https://www.tvnoviny.sk/na-telo/2000418_marian-kotleba-v-na-telo-obhajoval-ze-s-vacinou-na-covid-19-sa-do-tela-dostane-aj-nanocip

https://www.rtvs.sk/televizia/clanky/235271/stanovisko-rtvs-k-nedelnej-ucasti-mariana-kotlebu-v-relacii-o-5-minut12

  • Prior to Lithuania’s recent ban, the Russian RT channel was a problematic source of disinformation. However, other channels still continue to disseminate harmful content.
  1. Is disinformation a significant governance concern?  Has a prevalence of disinformation impacted any national regulatory/policy framework and intervention? In what way? What are the implications of that?
  • Due to global reach and impact of disinformation and their multiplication on global communication platforms, regulation on national level is not possible nor effective.
  • Therefore, the ongoing discussion in the EU on the Digital Services Act is both timely and important. The main principle of the upcoming EU regulation should be increased transparency (of data, algorithms, content takedown) and effectiveness of measures enforced by dissuasive sanctions and penalties applied both to social media platforms as well as actors violating legislation on these platforms.
  • As a principle, services established outside the EU operating on the European Market should comply with the European rules. In the case of breaking these rules, European authorities should have the option to impose penalties and eventually block the access to the single market. 
  • In Slovakia, strong disinformation campaign peddled online and offline has led to decision not to ratify the Istanbul Convention seeking to prevent and fight against the domestic violence (https://www.euractiv.com/section/freedom-of-thought/news/slovakia-still-opposes-eu-accession-to-istanbul-convention-preventing-violence-against-women/ )
Ema M Fong Moderator

Aloha Miroslava,

My name is Ema Miroslava Fong - wonderful to meet someone with my same name. Thank for submitting feedback from 10 organization and civil society initiatives spanning six European countries. That is fantastic! We appreciate you submitting feedback covering all six questions with an in-depth analysis. This will help give voice to the project that aims to find sustainable solutions over the issue of mis/disinformation.

Warmest and thank you again, Ema

Paola Forgione

Dear All,

I work at the International Committee of the Red Cross in the area of protection of healthcare from violence. Thank you for this initiative, which I find excellent to tackle the increasing problem of disinformation. I am glad to contribute to this discussion. Please find below my inputs to the following questions:

  1. What do you consider to be the most significant impacts or risks of disinformation on the relationship between citizens and the state, or other actors and interests in society?

As we are currently witnessing in the Covid-19 crisis, disinformation undermines the relationship of trust between the citizens and the public health system. Mistrust has several consequences. For example, it may lead to violence against the health personnel, perceived as accomplice to a "global conspiracy" (e.g. videos of hospitals allegedly empty are currently circulating on the Internet in some countries as evidence that in fact there is no pandemic). Furthermore, mistrust towards the healthcare system may result in people not seeking medical care and not undergoing the Covid-19 test, even when symptoms appear. This obviously contribute to further spread the virus and extend the health crisis.

  1. Are there particular groups or communities being impacted more than others? Why? Do women or youth face any specific repercussions of disinformation?

Health workers across the world are currently strongly impacted by disinformation. Hundreds of incidents of violence against healthcare triggered -directly or indirectly -by disinformation have been reported worldwide. In particular:

-some incidents have been directly triggered by disinformation: some rumors and conspiracy theories around Covid-19 argue that the healthcare staff is poisoning and killing healthy individuals -and blaming their death on an inexistent virus - for some kind of financial gain. In several countries HC workers have been harassed, threatened and physically assaulted by patients’ families or community members believing in a “Covid-19 cartel” conspiracy theory.

-some incidents have been indirectly triggered by disinformation: even if not directly blaming the healthcare staff, disinformation is a driver of fear and stigma, because increases frustration, anguish and confusion among the population, and fuel panic and resentment vis-à-vis the authorities, the patients (“plague spreaders”), and even the care givers. Indeed, the latter have either been perceived as expression of the authorities’ failure and/or as virus carriers, because of their proximity to the “plague spreaders”. Several incidents related to this generalized moral panic and targeting HC staff, patients, ambulances and medical premises, have been reported worldwide following the Covid-19 outbreak. 

               5. Which are the key online platforms and off-line channels through which disinformation commonly spreads?

A lot of health misinformation is currently spread through social media, including through WhatsApp audio messages shared in group chats.

Ema M Fong Moderator

Aloha Dear Paola,

Thank you very much for covering Q1, Q2, and Q5 in your analysis. It's fantastic hearing from a member of the IRIC and learning more about how this issue is tragically directly affecting health workers across the globe. This is crucial information for the project. We appreciate your in-depth analysis, especially from your perspective.

Thank you again, Ema

AlSur

In recent years, Al Sur consortium has had a greater interest and work on the phenomenon of disinformation on the Internet, driven, first, with the last presidential elections in the United States, and then in a succession of legislative attempts in several Latin American countries, increasingly driven by crises like COVID-19.

In general terms, as a consortium, we are concerned that the concept of disinformation has been used as an umbrella that harbors political and social problems which are very diverse and that, if approached in an excessively simplistic and general way, may result in the undermining of freedom of expression and other fundamental rights. Within this framework, we have worked on two reports that may be of interest to UNESCO and UNDP:

- "Disinformation on the Internet in electoral contexts in Latin America and the Caribbean. Regional contribution of civil society organizations linked to Human Rights in the digital environment". 2019. This contribution was sent for the report on the subject led by the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).

- "Disinformation and the pandemic: A human rights perspective." 2020. This document was prepared for the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) as an input report for the public discussion for its next statement on the matter.

Because the heart of our work on the matter has been problematizing public policies and legislative proposals in this regard and their implications for human rights, we will answer questions related to public policies posed in the consultation. We hope that this contribution can dive into a very complex problem tied to different social and political realities globally.

- Is disinformation a significant governance concern? Has a prevalence of disinformation impacted any national regulatory/policy framework and intervention? In what way? What are the implications of that?

Yes. Disinformation has strongly affected Latin American democracies in recent years following a process of increased political polarization in several countries. As a current problem of democracy and globally relevant topic of discussion involving digital platforms, it emerged around the electoral process that led Donald Trump to the presidency in the United States (2016) and was also present in other electoral processes in recent years in Latin America, such as the referendum for the Peace Treaty in Colombia (2016), the presidential elections in Mexico (2018), Brazil (2018), Bolivia (2019), etc. 

Before analyzing public policy responses to the matter, it is vital to state the phenomenon's complexity. First of all, it is difficult to directly relate disinformation campaigns to electoral results. Although there is strong evidence that coordinated disinformation campaigns have played a relevant role in shaping the public debates in several of the above mentioned cases, it is not possible to draw a direct correlation with voters' choice. In this sense, however, it seems relevant to recognize that the literacy and digital literacy challenges still faced in Latin America may play a role in the influence false information may have in peoples' decisions.

On the other hand, there are also deep doubts regarding the causes of the phenomenon. Most of the studies in this regard link it with political polarization and with the amplifying role that — in this process — play the traditional media, as well as with the advertising infrastructure mounted on the exploitation of personal data, which would allow the production of more effective campaigns through targeted and segmented communications. In this sense, online advertising and segmented communications could function as "enabling factors" of the disinformation campaigns.

But studies also coincide in pointing out that the phenomenon is mounted on deeper problems: Benkler et al. speak of the "epistemic crisis" that affects many modern democracies. Bennett and Livingston link the phenomenon with "the breakdown of trust in the democratic institutions of the press and politics." In this sense, the disinformation crisis seems to be one more aspect of a specific legitimacy crisis that affects Western democracies. 

Likewise, several of the characteristics of the Internet, which make it such a rich and attractive technology, also facilitate the spread of false information: the barriers to entry are very low, the production of information has low costs since the appearance of social networks where it is possible to create, coordinate and belong to groups with a handful of clicks, and so on. The challenge of disinformation is, in this sense, the same in electoral matters as in matters of public health. 

In this context, and based on the research leading by Agustina del Campo, the Director at the Center for Studies on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information (CELE) at Universidad de Palermo, and member of Al Sur, the approaches to dealing with disinformation differ from country to country according to their own constitutional, social and cultural characteristics. Maybe the only commonality across the different debates lies with the question of responsibility (whether legal or moral) of Internet companies for hosting, distributing, curating and amplifying the reach of fake news. So far, the focus has been mostly on 1) whether the information is true or false; 2) whether Internet companies did "enough" to prevent its distribution. More recently and during COVID-19 pandemic, the first question has turned to certain content's potential to generate "damage" rather than whether it's true or false, but the categories are undoubtedly related. This approach has been signed by public and private initiatives that attempt to influence either by legislation or public pressure the Internet company decision-making processes.

Another important but more recent approach has focused on advertisement and targeting, particularly during election periods, that allegedly allow disinformation to flow undetected. So far, fact-checking initiatives and content moderation/curation have been the two most popular "remedies" requested from and displayed by Internet companies.

The "technosolutions" discussed above share one thing in common: while disinformation is known to be a complex phenomenon, the identified potential solutions that focus on content, intermediary liability, and data use only rely on a single variable/actor: Internet companies. And as evidenced by the last several months of content moderation scandals, they appear to have failed to address the problem while contributing to creating a new one: a change in hearts from the companies themselves, who now seem more willing to exert the power that this approach has granted them.

Another intervention to combat disinformation was the use of criminal law to prosecute people accused of spreading false information. In Argentina, several criminal actions were brought against journalists and citizens under the charge of causing "public intimidation" by disseminating information allegedly false around the COVID-19 pandemic. These accusations were reportedly based on evidence gathered through the use of Social Media Intelligence (SOCMINT) by law enforcement authorities. Similar cases were also denounced in Colombia.

The lack of clarity in the definition of terms like "public intimidation" or "public fear" could threaten freedom of expression by causing certain views to be deemed dangerous and thus, subject to criminal conviction. Likewise, the pervasive monitoring of information on social media by the Police may have the indirect effect of deterring a person from commenting or posting online.  

Ema M Fong Moderator

Wonderful to hear from the Al Sur consortium and most especially to learn that your work has been centered on the phenomenon of disinformation. We appreciate your sharing the links for the two reports your consortium published covering the human rights perspective on COVID. Interesting to read about how disinformation is affecting Latin American democracies. Political polarization appears to be a common thread again various countries across the globe. The intervention to combat disinformation that you spoke of such as prosecuting people accused of spreading false information was very interesting.

We appreciate the in-depth analysis and it will help give voice to the UNESCO | UNDP project.

 

Warmest aloha, Ema

 

Israel Araujo

Qs1. In my community, it is observed that misinformation manifests itself through social networks, presenting news related to other countries as if they were local news. Similarly, it has been observed that on social networks old news is taken up as if it were recent information. Likewise, it is observed that this type of misinformation has a greater impact on groups living in vulnerable conditions.

Ema M Fong Moderator

Aloha Dear Israel,

Thank you for your observation in room one (1) Q1, we appreciate your time. The key observation of how old news gets passed around as new news and that can and often does lead to deepening divides and or violent conflict.

Thank you & warmest aloha, Ema