“A lie is halfway around the world before the truth has even got its boots on,” said Mark Twain. Or perhaps it was Winston Churchill? As the New York Times points out, this quote has been attributed to many different authors. However, its main point is firmly supported by scientific research: lies spread faster than facts.
In the final episode of its “Operation Infektion” series, the New York Times documents the world-wide war on truth and asks the question which is rising higher and higher up the political agenda: how do we defend ourselves against disinformation?
While there is no simple cure for the disinformation virus, exposing it is a start.
Europe vs Disinformation
Since its inception in 2015, the East Stratcom Task Force has identified and collected over 4,500 cases of pro-Kremlin disinformation. And we are not alone in this.
There is Estonian Propamon – a monitoring robot which looks for news related to Estonia in Russian media, and an AI-driven myth-debunking initiative in Lithuania. But robots are not enough. That’s why there are also a lot of humans who dedicate their time and efforts to exposing disinformation.
Created by a university professor and his students, StopFake became a go-to resource to learn about Russian disinformation tactics in Ukraine. MythDetector tracks and debunks anti-Western disinformation. Digital Sherlocks identify, expose, and explain disinformation at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research lab. Polygraph verifies quotes, stories, and reports of government officials, state media and other high-profile individuals in English, while Factograph does it in Russian. Using open sources, Bellingcat investigates online information and disinformation. TjekDet does fact-check in Danish, Faktiskt in Swedish and Les Décodeurs – in French.
If disinformation is a virus, then public awareness is a vaccine. Examples of such a vaccine include, among others, Sweden, that took measures to increase social resilience in the run-up of the 2018 elections, Finland – home to the European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats and Poland, where NGOs created a platform to raise awareness and educate society about information security.
However, as we are increasingly connected by social media, the risk of disinformation contagion is growing. To curb it, the European Union introduced the Code of Practise on Disinformation – the first of its kind in the world. The Code, signed by such online giants as Facebook, Twitter, Mozilla, and Google, sets self-regulatory standards in order to fight disinformation and address the spread of fake news online.
In the meantime, France is debating a new law that would oblige platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to disclose the funding sources for sponsored content in the three months that precede elections. And Germany is already enforcing a law which demands that social media sites quickly remove hate speech, fake news, and illegal material.
Is that enough?
Disinformation appears to be becoming a global pandemic, or, as the New York Times puts it – we are witnessing the worldwide war on truth. So while states, media, and civil societies are still finding ways to strengthen collective defense, our individual efforts matter more than ever.
Use these online resources to verify content you read on the internet.
And here are some simple tips to make sure your news feed is not infected with disinformation:
- Check the source: Is this the source I think it is? Have I heard of it before?
- Check the author: Are they who they say they are? Are they a real person?
- Check with others: has this been reported somewhere else?
- Check beyond the headline: could this be a clickbait?
- Check intention: could this be a joke, satire or parody?
Read and watch the first and the second parts of the series:
- New York Times sheds light on the decades-old tradition of Kremlin disinformation campaign
- Seven commandments of fake news: New York Times exposes Kremlin’s methods
Watch entire series on the NYT website.
- Central and Eastern Europe in the fight with disinformation: How is Ukraine doing?
- You can’t fight disinformation in the EU without naming its main source – Russia
- Fight against disinformation is also a fight for independent media, Novaya Gazeta case shows
- How Russia uses dehumanizing disinformation as a weapon of the information war against Ukraine
- French think tanks issue 50 recommendations to combat information manipulations
- Democracies should prepare for the long fight against Russian disinformation warfare: study
- Disinformation across ages: Russia’s old but effective weapon of influence
- 25 ways of combatting propaganda without doing counter-propaganda
- EU beefs up Task Force to fight Russian information war
- Internet bots are key players in propelling disinformation: study of 9 countries
- “Russophobia” as a Russian propaganda tool
- Wishful thinking as a manipulation tool in Russian propaganda
- Fake Western experts as a propaganda tool on Russian TV
- Email chains and other Russia’s propaganda tools in central and eastern Europe
- How pranksters are used as a pro-Kremlin propaganda tool
- Irrelevant questions as a pro-Kremlin propaganda tool to distract the audience
- Kremlin disinformation campaign extremely successful – EU East Stratcom
- In the depths of disinformation: this is how RT propaganda works
- Intimidation as a propaganda tool in the Nordic countries