Blog by Patrick Hever, Keep it Real campaign Ambassador, age 23, Dublin
‘What can be done to combat disinformation in Ireland?’
The #KeepItReal campaign has now drawn to a close after the successful webinar organised by ARTICLE19 and the #KeepItReal ambassadors on March 23rd. The conversations during the webinar were interesting and insightful, while it was refreshing to hear the multitude of perspectives and solutions put forward on the topics of disinformation and freedom of expression by speakers.
Disinformation has always been around. The term “dezinformatsiya” was first coined in the 1920s by Josef Stalin as the name of the section of the KGB who were set up to mislead enemies and influence public opinion. Now more than ever due to the unprecedented scale of amplification of disinformation on social media, the general public are experiencing rafts of disinformation being thrown at them. According to the Reuters Digital News Report in 2020, 80% of the population of Ireland received their information online (including social media).
In Ireland, following the killing of George Nkencho by gardaí, images circulated on social media stating that the victim had 32 previous convictions for violent offences. The fact-checking team at the Journal.ie investigated this and found the claims were completely false and unsubstantiated. This was a clear example of disinformation spreading on social media with no real repercussions for those who created the “fake news”. What exactly is the best approach to combat this?
Online Safety Media Regulation Bill
Ireland is currently debating a new legal framework for social media platforms. The Online Safety Media Regulation (OSMR) will create a new regulator, the Media Commission, to replace the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland. The bill will create a regulatory framework for online safety to tackle the spread and amplification of certain defined categories of harmful online content, while also ensuring that the protection of fundamental freedoms is duly taken in consideration. Disinformation, however, is currently not listed in the bill as a category of harmful content.
Social Media Council
ARTICLE 19 considers that the future Media Commission could work in tandem with a Social Media Council (SMC), a multi-stakeholder and voluntary mechanism that would offer a new transparent, inclusive, independent, and accountable mechanism to address content moderation problems using human rights law as the basis of its decisions. The council will comprise social media companies, media, journalists, bloggers, academics, civil society organisations and other stakeholders that represent the diversity of society. The SMC would provide recommendations to social media platforms and enable individuals to submit cases. The idea has received support from David Kaye who was formerly the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression. The Social Media Council could provide an effective forum for all stakeholders to agree on appropriate strategies to tackle disinformation.
Technology combatting disinformation
If the media can be monitored effectively, disinformation can be detected early, and appropriate measures can be taken to deal with the issue. There is no denying that, in terms of disinformation, technology really is our foe, but it can also be our friend, provided that it is designed in a manner that takes freedom of expression into consideration. There are multiple technology start-ups springing up around Europe with their primary aim being to fight disinformation. For example, Factmata develops cutting edge contextual understanding algorithms that reduce online misinformation and abusive content from the internet using unique algorithms to classify the content in subtle ways. At home in Ireland Kinzen, founded by journalists Mark Little and Aine Kerr, is also battling against the plague of disinformation on social media. Kinzen’s mission is to protect every online community and public dialogue from dangerous disinformation.
Tackling online harassment
Disinformation is often linked to online harassment. Many journalists in Ireland are often the target of online harassment from fake social media accounts and trolls, and this disproportionately affects female journalists more than their male colleagues. Furthermore, professional footballers in Ireland and the United Kingdom also bear the brunt of racism and online abuse from fake accounts and trolls. ARTICLE19 believes that social media companies must, for example, develop dedicated sections on gender-based harassment and abuse in their policies and community guidelines that are easily accessible and available in local languages, while they must also consider further partnering with female journalists and civil society groups to develop practical strategies of research-focused and community-lead solutions on gender-based harassment and abuse.
When I was 18 years of age, I was entering my last year of second level education meaning I was also eligible to vote. For someone who was eligible to vote my understanding, or lack thereof, surrounding politics was minimal. The term “disinformation” was something I had never heard of, which is quite alarming for an individual who was legally allowed to cast a vote. If during my time in school I was exposed to a subject concerning the political landscape of Ireland and abroad, while educating me on the perilous dangers of disinformation, I would have been better placed to make more informed decisions. In June 2018 Leaving Cert students sat an exam in ‘Politics and Society’, a welcomed addition to the Leaving Cert curriculum. It is vital that a great emphasis is placed on the problem of disinformation particularly in terms of how it can be disseminated through social media platforms with such ease when teaching this.
Great importance will lie with encouraging citizens of Ireland to improve their digital media literacy and become more aware of how to spot and combat disinformation. Strategies such as the ‘Public Libraries 2022 – Inspiring, Connecting and Empowering Communities’ will create and implement a learning module that will provide public library staff in Ireland with the skills necessary to provide media literacy training to adult library users. These initiatives are steps in the right direction, while great importance will lie with things like the OSMR Bill, technology start-ups like Kinzen, the creation of an SMC and how social media companies deal with online disinformation.