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The Fight Against Disinformation in Africa and Europe in this Digital Age

Today, most people get their news through online sources using smartphones for their communications. Disinformation in Africa and Europe is harmful to both continents and it is clearly widespread, especially online.

UNESCO has defined disinformation as “information that is false and deliberately created to harm a person, social group, organisation or country. With just a smartphone and a social media account in Africa and Europe, anyone can quickly spread across any platform a thread of fake news sparking a rise in ethnic and religious crises.

Africa and Europe have been the target of large-scale disinformation of late. A lot of the activities in the digital age take place online which makes social media a critical player. In order to combat fake news and disinformation, and also maintain free speech in the process, it is important that government, organizations, and citizens work together to solve these problems. First, we need to understand why fake information spreads faster and more easily than the truth. It seems that no matter how developed a country is, 

Effective Measures against Disinformation

On Sunday, December 4, 2016, a shooting incident occurred at a pizza shop in northwestern Washington D.C. during the middle of the day. There were false tweets widely spread on the net claiming that this pizza shop was the base for a paedophile sex ring involving Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, a former Secretary of State, and members of her campaign. The operators of the pizza shop began receiving threats from right-wing activists who believed that the reports were true.

Although social media subsequently banned posts related to pizzagate, the threats did not stop, culminating in the appearance of a 28-year-old man from North Carolina, who showed up at the shop with a rifle to do his own “investigation.” According to a New York Times interview with the suspect after his capture, he was a soft-spoken, polite man who intended to rescue the children trapped in the shop.

In order to address fake news, it is essential to prevent, control and stop unofficial sources that spread disinformation.

Taking Proactive Measures by Spreading the Right Information

This is the best defence against misinformation, amplifying the correct information.
In 2019, France became the latest country to be stricken with misinformation-related violence. The rumour which spread online was false information talked about France’s Roma ‘kidnappings’. This misinformation spread on both Facebook and Snapchat and was the re-emergence of an old online hoax that warns people about white vans that are being used to kidnap women and children. The measures taken by media outlets in countering disinformation about COVID-19 were effective because of the proactive measures to spread the right information and narrative.

Digital and Media Literacy Programmes

Tech companies and civil society organisations should train and educate citizens on how to identify and counter fake news. People profit from disinformation, and technology companies like Meta should reduce the financial incentives associated with it and improve online accountability. Governments and educational institutions should promote news literacy and strong professional journalism in their societies. It should be made necessary in the school curriculum. Funding from the Government should be available to support partnerships between news reporters, journalists, organisations, educational institutions, and non-profit organizations to encourage digital and media news literacy.

Government Regulation of Media Platforms

The media environment is polluted by disinformation. Government policy that won’t weaken freedom of speech should be put in place to tackle fake news. Passing a law that moderates creating and spreading of rumours or disinformation on social media platforms and apps and still preserves citizens’ freedom of speech. Government agency can control information flows and content on social media platforms by establishing regulations to monitor news circulating online and tackle fake news.

How different Actors can tackle the spread of Disinformation in Africa and Europe?

Everyone including the Government, news stations, media organizations, tech companies, students, and teachers can tackle the spread of disinformation. Collaboration between tech companies, civil society and academia can address the spread of disinformation in Africa and Europe.

Social media sites are very popular in the developing world. Tech company, Meta is active in combating disinformation and limiting its spread. Facebook established means to identify false news through the community and third-party fact-checking organizations. The social media company disabled over 1.3 billion accounts between October and December 2020 using a machine learning tool – one of the most advanced methods by Facebook to fight against fake accounts. These are just a few of the many methods to combat disinformation on the platform.

Similarly, In August 2018, the Illegal and Unhealthy Information Reporting Centre, affiliated with CAC, established a national-level rumour-refuting platform (http://www.piyao.org.cn/). The platform has integrated over 40 local rumour-refuting platforms and uses artificial intelligence to identify misinformation. WhatsApp also took steps by letting users know when a message has been forwarded and not written by the sender to curb the spread of fake news.

There is a need for consistent testing and building of innovative products to limit the spread of disinformation in Africa and Europe. This can not be achieved without the support of academia, news and media organizations to fact-check and identify false or misleading news.

Different sectors working on a transparent decision-making plan to investigate and disprove false information, focusing on items which can be harmful, impactful and manipulative is a type of multistakeholder collaboration that can be considered good practice.

Ahead of the 2023 general election in Nigeria, the Nigerian Fact-Checkers Coalition which comprises Africa Check, Dubawa, FactCheckHub, FactsMatterNG, Daily Trust, TheCable, Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development (CJID) and International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR) is a good example of multistakeholder collaborations. This is an alliance of stakeholders to curb fake news before, during and after the elections. Fake content was widespread during the last presidential campaign and this collaboration will stop disinformation or misinformation that could disrupt campaigns and governance in the nation.

Conclusion

False news content is not just a problem in Africa but afflicts other countries in Europe and around the world. The spread and impact of disinformation are a global concern and a threat to the sustainability of democracy globally. It is a threat to the national security of every nation and all hands must be on deck to check it. There is a need to work with European tech companies and citizen groups in Africa to address the root causes of ethno-religious violence.

To protect human rights and freedom of speech, the government should not be allowed the power to determine fake news since it is not transparent and accountable. Also Government regulation and censorship are unlikely to resolve disinformation as it poses major risks of abuse on people’s freedom of expression and human rights.

The number of internet users in the world increases yearly and with just a laptop and login details, it is so easy to create and spread disinformation. Everyone has a huge responsibility of curbing fake news and must always fact-check information before sharing.

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