6. Research on disinformation

Summary of the presentations and discussions on "research on disinformation" from the June 2021 GFMD IMPACT donor-practitioner-academic meeting on disinformation.

The insights and findings presented in this section of the report are supported by the findings of the literature review prepared for the meeting.

Literature review

Data & information sharing

Problem: More data is needed on how access to information laws impact abilities, to combat misinformation, and on how poor data around media ownership and transparency also limits abilities to effectively combat disinformation.

Challenge: Information and data collected by fact-checking groups and other actors are currently being underutilised and needs to be more systematically collected.

Suggestion: Donors, practitioners and academics should take advantage of data produced by anti-disinformation activities and work fact-checkers and others with researchers who can leverage and interpret that data for those who are working on legal and regulatory approaches and advocacy approaches to disinformation.

If you have other suggestions regarding how to address this please get in touch!

Diversity and representation

Problem: “We really do need to see a broader and more diverse field of research and researchers. Because really understanding disinformation in different contexts is going to be key to the right kind of responses.” (Donor meeting participant)

Saja Mortada reinforced this point when presenting the highlights from ARIJ’s (Dec. 2020) policy paper, “Combating Disinformation in the Arab World - The COVID-19 pandemic”.

The policy paper concluded that there were different reasons for the spreading of misleading news and conspiracy theories in the region. It was not only about technical reasons but also about psychological and cultural ones.

Challenge: While academic and other research on disinformation is growing, it is largely North American, European centric.

Solution: Donors expressed interest in supporting research by and from the parts of the world where media development as part of ODA takes place.

Effects v production

Another gap in research identified during the meeting was a tendency to focus on the effects of disinformation rather than production or producers.

The work of Jonathan Corpus Ong and Jason Vincent A. Cabañes was praised as a notable exception:

Recommendations for researchers

  • Collaborate with journalists, news organisations, and civil society groups on surfacing and combatting disinformation.

  • Study cross-platform disinformation campaigns to get a more rounded, holistic perspective on the problem and responses to it.

  • Pursue independent, longitudinal, quantitative and qualitative monitoring and evaluation of disinformation responses.

  • Develop new technological tools to assist journalists in detecting and analysing disinformation; privacy, algorithmic transparency and accessibility.

  • Analyse various types of disinformation responses as they emerge and evolve, and assess their efficacy and impacts with specific reference to freedom of expression challenges.

Source: Kalina Bontcheva's presenation based on Balancing Act: Countering Digital Disinformation While Respecting Freedom of Expression - 2020)

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