Disinformation is one of the most serious threats democratic societies face today. As the crisis in Ukraine unfolded, fears mounted about what information would be accessible, and to whom: Ukrainians, Russians, Belarusians and people around the globe were faced with a range of competing narratives about the war.
The Russian Government has used propaganda and disinformation as a weapon of war, on Russia Today (RT) and through other outlets. Its campaigns to control the narrative and what information Russians access must be combatted through ongoing support for independent media, human rights defenders and civil society on the ground as they work to deliver the truth and speak out for justice and against the war.
ARTICLE 19 continues to call on officials, media and the public to be vigilant when sharing information about the conflict, so as not to amplify falsehoods and help counter deliberate propaganda campaigns.
So how can disinformation be tackled in a time of war?
Building and developing media literacy is vital. People must be equipped with the tools to access, analyse, critically assess (including through fact-checking), create and share media and information — to educate, inform, communicate, and participate in political processes. We must recognise the direct link between media literacy and democracy, and communicate this to our governments. Media literacy will help build resilience against disinformation and propaganda.
People must be able to trust the media, so strengthening independent, reliable, diverse, well-researched outlets, institutions and journalists is key.
The core values of journalism should be upheld:
- Truth & Accuracy
- Fairness and Impartiality
People everywhere must form an understanding of what laws regulate the media and States’ responsibilities to enable a free and pluralistic media landscape to be in place, in line with international freedom of expression standards. They must hold their governments to account.
Listening to, chronicling and sharing the stories of people who have been on the frontline of the infowar is also crucial. First-hand accounts from journalists and activists, but also from ‘consumers’ – people who have no links to the press or politics or activism, but who rely on the Internet, television, radio, and the press for information to help them feed their families and stay safe – are and will continue to be crucial in shaping the world’s understanding of what is happening in Ukraine.
As the global political landscape has shown, the label of disinformation can also be used against people – journalists, activists, citizens wanting to share information – as a weapon to discredit, stigmatise or even criminalise them. Russia is adept at this tactic, ferociously and systemically targeting independent media and civil society groups, and. As stories of Russians who are against the war continue to emerge — from the journalist holding up a sign on state TV to rumours of dissent within the Russian security unit the FSB — this campaign will only intensity.