Whatever your opinions on the polarizing political environment in the United States, there is no refuting the fact that disinformation is beginning to play a huge part in elections worldwide. In countries like Germany, France and even places like Ukraine — disinformation is the norm rather than the exception. But what is disinformation? Disinformation is not the same as misinformation, which is information that was unintentionally false like incorrectly attributing a photo to an event.
Disinformation is intentionally spread inaccurate information meant to deceive.
You might have come across it and not even realized that you were been deceived or lied to. The whole idea behind much of this disinformation is that it hides in plain sight, and attempts to influence your own opinions. That is why it is also often also referred to as information influence activity.
A country generally conducts information influence activities because they wish to undermine key democratic processes, social institutions and to sow doubt between groups and cause societal rifts. When a country is divided, it makes not only decision-making more difficult, but also means that country is less likely to interfere or make coherent foreign policy actions on the world stage.
But as a normal person, those big picture questions aren’t particularly relevant for you.
What is important for everyday communicators, whether you are a casual social media observer, a journalist or a media official, is to a) become aware of information influence activities, b) identifying these activities, and c) countering them. The first step is becoming aware of these deceptive measures. You might recognize them when political debates are exploited and instead of helping the argument, a user rather wishes to continue the argument and polarize the two sides so that compromise is more difficult.
The second stage, identifying disinformation, is the process of examining the information that you are given. It is no longer enough to simply read an article or post on Facebook without considering its origins. Disinformation narratives tend to be disruptive, oblique and polarizing. The problem is that there are so many different kinds and often, they come about together! Hostile actors will rarely stick to one technique because with more options comes more chaos.
But you’re probably more interested in countering these activities. Unfortunately, the reality of disinformation is that you’re always one step behind. You can always prepare, evaluate the risks, build public trust and raise awareness but once disinformation strikes — that is the best time to act. You can decide whether to react aggressively or simply let the matter fade to the side. You could choose to fact-check and post an official response. However, ultimately the best defense is a strong offense. So in times when disinformation strikes, rely on the ability to be aware of it and identify it so that you are able to counter it. If you first notice it, and understand its origins, your opinions and political debates to come will be more educated and rooted.
Read more about countering information influence campaigns with Countering information
influence activities: A handbook for communicators, a handbook published by the Swedish Civil Contingencies Industry or check out Katarina Kertysova's report on Russian disinformation.
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