Combating the Impacts of Disinformation
Combating the Impacts of Disinformation
Combating fake news is a hot topic in global stability and governance. Organizations that historically worked on reducing poverty, injustice and health threats around the world now find themselves facing new challenges brought on by the digital age and “attention economy.” Targeted disinformation campaigns that can go viral affect human wellbeing on an individual and global scale. They cause distrust in institutions and divisions in society. Based on our experience combating fake news through media literacy and awareness, this is what we see as the main challenges and some possible solutions to this issue:
The creators of disinformation take a kernel of truth and build a false narrative around it. For example, during Pizzagate in the U.S., an armed gunman acted on a false story that had some truth: the owner of the restaurant did support the campaign of the former presidential candidate. That was real – the child trafficking ring was not. In Ukraine, this approach is used very often, and in a recent case, led to an acid attack on an activist. Because people often react to what they read before they think about the motives behind the story, the producers of fake news create content that aims to turn that reaction into action.
This is used during active hybrid information wars. For example, in Ukraine, people are already on edge because of the martial law that was instated after the incident in the Kerch Strait. The amount of information and the words of so-called experts played on people’s fears. Worst case scenarios provided by so-called experts were circulated in social media and caused additional stress. In other cases, organizations like StopFake.org, an organization we are working within Ukraine, were able to find out that these experts came from false accounts, and one national channel got 27 million views of a public service announcement that was created to promote the website. Going forward, the program could be even more effective if local representatives were further trained to create and promote content and to train journalists and students in their region to can carry on this work beyond our program.
These are only two of many signs that information may be false.
New narratives for social relief
But rather than focus efforts on countering fake news and reacting to the increasing flow of sensational and distracting information, we propose creating new, engaging content that reinforces people’s core values, builds on principles of humanism and tolerance, and uses principles of mindfulness. For example, talk more about compassion rather than judgment. Use storytelling to celebrate the courage of regular people dealing with day-to-day issues. When we pay more attention to creative forces in our global society, empower and support artists, storytellers, and humorists, we can help bring security and stability to societies that are constantly being traumatized by information manipulation. Laughter and relaxation are important in times of disinformation and constant stress. One of our media activities used this principle in a radio broadcast on media literacy that reached approximately four million listeners in two weeks and was requested by other radio stations to rebroadcast.
Truth is boring. Truth is something that does not really get you emotionally, and we’ve seen from disinformation campaigns the power of reaching people emotionally. Using humor and human interest – especially if it relates to commonly held beliefs – provokes an emotional reaction, but in this case, a positive one.
Good-hearted entertainment for social cohesion is an effective tool in countering disinformation and informing and uniting people and bringing hope. And that is what we need to bring stability to society and help people heal.
Olha Onyshko is Dexis’ country director in Ukraine. She is an independent filmmaker, civil society leader, and former broadcast journalist.
- Region: Europe, Europe and Eurasia, Global
- Service: Project Implementation
- Sector: Conflict Mitigation and Stabilization
- Client: U.S. Department of Defense