Disinformation is often used interchangeably with propaganda, fake news, or misinformation. However, disinformation works more subtly and aims to achieve different objectives, which is why it needs to be differentiated from the other concepts. A report from U.S. Agency for Global Media – “Addressing Disinformation” – examines the issue and outlines the ways in which the agency approaches the problem around the world.
As this report shows, while fact-checking can play an important role in countering any disinformation campaign, journalists and media organizations need to move beyond this strictly defensive stance and embrace proactive measures.
First, what exactly is disinformation? Disinformation is deliberately manipulated information that aims to deceive or mislead publics in order to create confusion and distrust. While it is not new, disinformation has recently emerged as one of the central threats to democracy and international stability. Using new tools and technologies that range from live streaming to private messengers and deep fakes, many state and non-state actors have rushed to spread disinformation to divide and demoralize publics both at home and abroad. These tactics lead to the erosion of trust in institutions, experts, and the broader society. This undermines the social contract and destroys the fabric of community on local, national, and global levels, making addressing disinformation a challenging task.
Media have an essential role in responding to disinformation but press freedom and journalistic quality vary greatly around the world. In many places, local media are unable to or are actively prevented from rising to this challenge.
Countering deliberate and politically motivated falsehoods is often the first response to disinformation campaigns, and while important, USAGM networks go beyond basic fact-checking to provide reliable and accurate information, in-depth coverage of complex issues, and explanatory journalism. USAGM networks also enhance civic resilience and empower foreign audiences by working with local partners and journalists to promote high journalistic standards and media literacy. These efforts help to inoculate audiences against the effects of disinformation.
USAGM’s “Addressing Disinformation” report examines these approaches and provides recommendations and best practices for international and national public media organizations.
For example, in order to meet the threat posed by global disinformation, public media must prioritize a set of proactive efforts: ensure information is accurate, work together, expose disinformation campaigns, and ensure access to content. Public media organizations should increase the production of unbiased, compelling content, and distribute it efficiently, with platforms and audiences in mind. No organization can address disinformation on its own, so it is crucial to enhance and expand cooperation with other broadcasters, reporters, and civil society organizations to build civic resilience, help boost credibility, and lower costs. Public media should also boldly expose major disinformation campaigns, while promoting high journalistic standards in all markets. Finally, access disruptions can exacerbate the toll of disinformation, so public media across the world should invest in circumvention and privacy tools to ensure that independent and objective information is available and accessible.
The report also features in-depth case studies of disinformation encountered by our reporters and language services from Africa, Asia, Eurasia, and Latin America.