Global Insights | Innovation in Counter-Disinformation: Toward Globally Networked Civil Society

In her Nobel Peace Prize lecture on December 10, 2021, Filipino journalist Maria Ressa called for a global response to the challenge of disinformation driven by new technologies. The five interdisciplinary essays in this “Global Insights” collection spotlight innovative perspectives and new methods for countering disinformation. On the heels of the Summit for Democracy, where preserving the integrity of the information space was identified as a key challenge, these essays by journalists, scholars, and civil society activists envision a globally networked response to the disinformation challenge. Their insights go beyond platform-centered solutions, address offline interpersonal dynamics, and account for the unique information integrity challenges posed by illiberal regimes in sub-Saharan Africa and South and Southeast Asia.

Read the full essay collection: “Innovation in Counter Disinformation: Toward Globally Networked Civil Society

Key Insights & Related Essays 

A loosely connected, constantly learning global network of counter-disinformation responderswith the benefit of greater platform access and additional funding sourcescan serve as a bulwark against evolving threats to the integrity of the information space. Although these threats travel across borders rapidly, civil society organizations working on these issues can learn from one another’s successes and failures.

Civil society has the unique capability to move fast, adapt easily, and share information generously: While civic activists and civil society organizations remain behind the pace of the disinformation threat, these actors are well positioned to rise to the challenge. A networked counter-disinformation response should leverage the abilities of activists, journalists, and civil society by empowering them with the research and response tools they need.

Disinformation networks—whether foreign-sourced or domestic in nature—are moving into new, understudied apps and digital platforms: As consumer choices for information consumption and communication evolve, innovative news outlets are experimenting with new methods for reaching local and global audiences. Africa-based online newspaper The Continent provides accessible, quality journalism for people to read and share freely on encrypted messaging platforms like WhatsApp, Signal, and WeChat. Such approaches include delivering information from sources that are more trustworthy, local, and curated than those shared in mass media or on major social media platforms.

Misinformation is not purely an online problem. Offline dynamics can amplify its spread: Off-platform sources of misinformation, including tightly knit local community circles, can be just as dangerous as lie-riddled Facebook groups. Exposing the psychological drivers of misinformation could be a solution just as effective, if not more so, than dismantling the latest bot networks. Detailing the makeup of targeted audiences can offer deeper insights than simply mapping how falsehoods spread online.

Investigative journalists are one of democracies’ competitive advantages against illiberal and authoritarian governments’ spread of disinformation: Journalism that helps audiences understand the impact of disinformation on their daily lives can affect change in the public consciousness. Investigative journalists possess a unique skill set that can be more powerful that data-centric, platform-mining approaches to modern disinformation research. They can track down trolls behind election influence operations, follow disinformation-for-hire schemes from Russia to LLCs in advanced democracies, and expose the violation of disclosure requirements by coopted social media influencers.

Despite recent positive developments in counter-disinformation efforts, illiberal and authoritarian regimes threaten to undermine this progress: Local counter-disinformation organizations operating under repressive regimes, like in the Philippines, face unique challenges. These challenges are exacerbated by the ambivalent, and at times discordant, relationship between foreign supporters and local organizations that both work to counter disinformation in these societies. Funders, researchers, and other civil society organizations based in more open settings must adapt their approaches to collaboration in recognition of the repression these organizations face.