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2. Responses aimed at producers and distributors
Summary of presentations and discussions on "responses aimed at producers and distributors" of disinformation from the June 2021 GFMD IMPACT donor-practitioner-academic meeting on disinformation.
There was general agreement that media development responses should focus on building resilience in societies by fostering a wider understanding of the nature of disinformation, what it is, and how it is spread.
Challenge: Participants emphasised that an obstacle to this can be newsrooms and journalists themselves.
Solutions: Participants recommended that media development programmes aim to:
- Improve comprehension of disinformation especially within the media sector.
Challenge: In areas that are badly catered for in terms of quality public service journalism, such as in countries with authoritarian governments, supporting journalism should be prioritised, with fact-checking projects increased once those basic information needs are met. (MediaDev practitioner)
Suggestion: "I would reiterate the need to not just do fact-checking if you're operating in an authoritarian context, but also really trying to address the problem of [the lack of] independent media." (MediaDev practitioner)
Suggestion: Incorporating fact-checking into programmes that provide financial and other support to news media is essential in order to raise editorial standards. (MediaDev practitioner)
Research presented by Media Matters for Democracy -- "Disorder in the newsroom - The media’s perceptions and response to the infodemic" -- highlighted the need to focus on newsroom policies and standards reinforced calls for better media and information literacy in newsrooms:
81% of the surveyed journalists said that there are written policies in their newsrooms editorial guidelines on fact-checking. However, none of the leading editors who were interviewed said that they have any written guidelines.
"Most of the journalists who took part in the survey claims of the day have a good understanding of information disorder. But on the other hand, when asked to classify different types of misinformation, disinformation misinformation, none of them were able to do so correctly."
Challenge: "From a media development perspective, one thing that I've observed over the years is that in environments that are ripe for misinformation, you often have the field of journalism itself, polarised and divided and unable to find the solidarity to respond. [...] Real ideological differences [between community, digital and more traditional media] keep them from defending a truthful space against those with bad intentions and politicians with untruthful statements."(Academic)
Suggestion: Interest was expressed in finding examples of where progress is being made to heal the divisions within the field of journalism itself, between new and old, bloggers and traditional journalists, and other groups.
One example of this was given from Kenya where digital publishers and bloggers that focus on disinformation are gaining prominence but it is unclear whether or not they are helping increase resilience, as freelance publishers/bloggers, mainstream media organizations do not consider them legitimate journalists.
Bloggers focused on disinformation have responded to this by establishing a code of conduct and engaging with Kenya’s Media Council to gain official recognition as an association.
This example and the wider issue of non-traditional actors raised the following questions:
Research and monitoring: Should the performance of these bloggers and digital publishers in Kenya and other countries be assessed?
Programme design: Should media development actors more actively consider how to recognise and support ethical producers of information online who operate outside of traditional/professional structures?
Learning from others: What can be learnt from those who have supported similar initiatives such as Lithuania's 'elves' and tried to replicate this volunteer model in Eastern European and Baltic states?
Nicolas Boissez’s presentation of the main findings from Fondation Hirondelle's (May 2021) policy paper, "Sticking to the Facts, Building Trust: our Cure for Disinformation" gave a number of recommendations:
We must insist on avoiding mixing or confusing news production journalism with messaging and campaigning. These are two different things, both have their legitimacy of course. But you should not mix them [...]
Please, as donors avoid confusion in programmes, avoid confusing communication efforts, messaging campaigns, which are totally legitimate, of course, with support to news media support to news production and to journalism."
Sonia Whitehead presented an analysis of BBC Media Action’s work responding to disinformation around COVID-19 based on:
- Research on Covid-19 misinformation in 15 countries in Asia, Africa, and Europe
- Learning from a number of different interventions with media organizations to support journalism and with partners to develop content to address rumours, change attitudes, and build digital skills
Here are some of the highlights:
In some contexts, the trust in the BBC brand made the information consumption more effective because people considered it more reliable and credible than other sources.
Effectiveness was also seen in terms of engagement and production value: Information that was emotionally engaging was found to be more effective, for example, if a radio show countering disinformation had a familiar character or storyline that resonated with the audiences, it was more likely that people would respond to the messages positively.
Some of the more controversial areas identified for further discussion and research included whether and to what extent journalism and media support programmes countering disinformation should use some of the tactics or tools used by disinformation producers around using personal/audience data and targeted campaigns via social media.
"To go to disinformers and point out what they're doing and hit them with their messaging, or even some naming and shaming has been suggested or calling them out.” (MediaDev practitioner)
It was noted that, despite some studies indicating there may be some value to naming and sharing or targeting misinformers, it could be incredibly disruptive and increase polarisation.
Suggestion: A meeting bringing together CVE and disinformation donors and practitioners to discuss
- The overlap with Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) approaches about which there is considerable literature.
- Strategies and tactics that cross over into the disinformation space.
It's almost like conflict resolution work, bringing all the different sides together because it really is a conflict at the end of the day, all this polarisation and difference of opinion. (Academic)
- Through some surveys, it was also noticed that people in some African countries, such as Libya, had a high knowledge of Covid-19 mis/disinformation because the false information connected with deep-seated norms or ingrained attitudes; this was seen as important towards creating content to counter Covid-related disinformation.
The following responses were not discussed at length during the meeting but will be addressed in future GFMD IMPACT meetings.
Legislative, pre-legislative and policy responses originate from government actors (e.g. legislative, executive, judiciary, civil service) and encompass regulatory intervention to tackle disinformation. Limited to legislation and policy strictly related to disinformation, unless a legislative/policy measure has been (expanded) in use to also tackle disinformation. (Source: Bontcheva)
Designed specifically to detect, track, and counter disinformation spread during elections; a multi-dimensional approach - may involve a combination of monitoring and fact-checking, legal, curatorial, technical, and other responses. (Source: Bontcheva)