How societies can confront disinformation campaigns
One of the biggest challenges that each individual and society faces is detecting and dealing with the prevalence of false information in the world today.
The spread of false information comes in two forms. If incorrect information is spread knowingly, with an intention to misstate facts and mislead people, it is called disinformation. But if it is unintentional, it is referred to as misinformation. Nevertheless, the outcome of both disinformation and misinformation appears to be the same.
As a result, it is critical to find ways to counter all forms of disinformation and misinformation, including conspiracy theories, fake news, doctored photos, manipulated audios and videos, and scams. The emergence of deep-fake technology and artificial intelligence has exacerbated this issue due to the fact that they make it easier to spread inaccurate information and make it seem real, credible and legitimate.
Often, bots, fake accounts and people who unknowingly share false information make disinformation spread much more rapidly. In other words, the ripple effects of sharing false information should not be underestimated. The reach of disinformation can be increased exponentially when people with large online followings endorse or share it. In addition, what makes the distribution of false information so fast is people’s easy access to online content, particularly through mobile devices.
The spread of misinformation and disinformation can have several consequences. First of all, infodemics can negatively impact people’s decision-making when it comes to their health, subsequently impacting their nation’s healthcare system. “Incorrect interpretations of health information, which increase during outbreaks and disasters, often negatively impact people’s mental health and increase vaccine hesitancy, and can delay the provision of healthcare,” a review by the World Health Organization noted. It added that the spread of “unreliable evidence on health topics amplifies vaccine hesitancy and promotes unproven treatments.”
Misinformation about climate change, which is funneled into distorting and opposing scientific research and findings, is one of the major obstacles to the world taking concrete and meaningful action to tackle the climate crisis. This is due to the fact that unified and collective measures are required to resolve the negative impacts of climate change. If there is division and discord, the task becomes much more difficult.
On a larger scale, the dissemination of false information and news can be a threat to a country’s national security. In the last few years, many malicious groups have attempted to affect the political process in certain nations. These entities launch disinformation campaigns by spreading dishonest or fake news on popular social media outlets, which have hundreds of millions of users. They also generate and disseminate fabricated headlines and videos, while propagating inaccurate pictures. Terror and militia groups also rely on spreading disinformation to recruit members.
The emergence of deep-fake technology and artificial intelligence has exacerbated this issue.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
Using propaganda in an attempt to influence people for political and financial gain has also become common. Perpetrators try to undermine and erode people’s confidence and trust in state institutions and norms, create deep divisions and discord, inflict damage on other nations’ internal politics and ultimately shape the political discourse in a way that advances their own ideological and geopolitical interests.
Some of the major social media outlets that have been used to spread disinformation are X and Facebook. These outlets have banned many accounts in recent years for engaging in inauthentic behavior, including spreading propaganda and disinformation in many countries. Unfortunately, some people are all too willing to naively, or perhaps even maliciously, lap up every shred of misinformation and augment every iota of propaganda. Some groups that are behind disinformation campaigns may also attempt to manipulate the media, which could damage the reputation and integrity of long-established outlets. This should be of concern to all reputable media outlets.
Misinformation and disinformation prevent the progress and advancement of a healthy and viable civic society. While raising awareness about every misinformation campaign is critical, one effective and long-term approach that could be used to counter disinformation is to increase media, digital and news literacy among the population. This should include teaching people, preferably from a young age, how to verify the legitimacy of any information and check its sources.
If every individual learns that one of their responsibilities is to check the legitimacy and accuracy of the information they read, then society will become more resilient to disinformation campaigns. Reading various sources and perspectives also helps with detecting false information. Not everything that is written or broadcast online should be accepted as legitimate.
Promoting professional and independent journalism, which relies on high-quality analysis and reports, is also critical to fighting false information. Some people may prefer to read the work of professional, investigative and independent journalists or experts. Also, social media outlets and tech companies must develop a system that detects false information and makes it extremely difficult for those who intend to spread disinformation to easily sign up, spread inaccurate information and monetize their channels. In addition, large news outlets ought to spot and expose false information.
Journalists, scholars, technology companies, engineers, policy analysts and politicians can cooperate with each other and set up an institution to effectively detect and reverse-engineer these kinds of actions and behaviors. Finally, it is incumbent on the international community to combat widespread global misinformation campaigns.
In a nutshell, enhancing media and digital literacy in society and promoting high-quality journalism should be two of the core pillars in any effort to combat disinformation campaigns and attempt to shape a society that is educated and instinctively resilient to efforts to spread false information.
- Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. X: @Dr_Rafizadeh