Combating the Disinfodemic: Working for truth in the time of COVID-19

Combating the Disinfodemic: Working for truth in the time of COVID-19 Free

By UNESCO
9 Lessons
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This UNESCO x UNITAR collaboration builds your understanding of the disinfodemic and the role of truth in the time of COVID-19. Access to reliable and accurate information is critical at the best of times, but during a crisis it can be a matter of life and death. Unless otherwise stated, all work by UNESCO is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 IGO License.

From the author:A disinfodemic refers to the overabundance of wrong information about the pandemic, or the ‘viral load’ of disinformation that undermines the public health response to COVID-19. This leads to the poor observance of public health measures, which has endangered countries' ability to stop the pandemic. From the author:“COVID-19 has led to a parallel pandemic of disinformation that directly impacts lives and livelihoods around the world. Falsehoods and misinformation have proven deadly and sowed confusion about life-saving personal and policy choices. To #ShareKnowledge, UNESCO and UNITAR have collaborated to bring to mobile e-learning two UNESCO policy briefs offering critical insights into the fast-growing COVID-19-related disinformation that is impeding access to trustworthy sources and reliable information. This research, in line with UNESCO’s role as a laboratory of ideas, coins the term disinfodemic to describe the problem. This interactive course is a collaboration between the UNES

Combating the Disinfodemic: Working for truth in the time of COVID-19 Lessons

Click through the microlessons below to preview this course. Each lesson is designed to deliver engaging and effective learning to your team in only minutes.

  1. Introduction to Combating the Disinfodemic
  2. Main Disinfodemic Types
  3. Key Themes of the Disinfodemic
  4. Identifying Disinformation
  5. Producers and Distributors
  6. Production and Distribution
  7. Supporting the Disinformation Target Audiences
  8. Options for Action
  9. Acknowledgements
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Combating the Disinfodemic: Working for truth in the time of COVID-19 course excerpts

Introduction to Combating the Disinfodemic

If information is empowering, then disinformation is disempowering
Combating the Disinfodemic: Working for truth in the time of COVID-19 Course - Lesson Excerpt

Combating the Disinfodemic Introduction

Disinformation accompanying the COVID-19 pandemic have had fatal consequences in a growing number of cases.

Meanwhile, journalists and medical personnel who expose disinformation are finding themselves the **targets of disinformation-fuelled attacks. **

When instrumentalised for political, racist, xenophobic, sexist, or other reasons, online disinformation about COVID-19 fans polarisation and further hatreds - at a time when **global unity is more needed than ever. **

And some responses to the disinfodemic undermine legitimate freedom of expression - which is one of the best antidotes to false content.

These lessons are a summary of a pair of UNESCO research-based policy briefs. They assess emerging responses to the prolific spread of disinformation associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, in the context of freedom of expression challenges.

This online course has been authored in collaboration with the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR).

COVID-19 disinformation creates confusion about medical science with immediate impact on every person on the planet, and upon whole societies. ## The term adopted we're using to describe the falsehoods fuelling the pandemic and its impacts is disinfodemic. ## This is because of the huge viral load of potentially deadly disinformation. ## The UN Secretary General describes this as a poison, and humanity’s other enemy in the COVID-19 crisis. ## These lessons highlight the challenges and opportunities associated with the urgent need to ‘flatten the curve’ of the disinfodemic, and to offer possible options for action.

Take a message like “This miracle cure can kill the virus”. Is it information, disinformation or misinformation?

Human Rights Context It is every person’s right to seek, receive and impart information. UNESCO and its partners work to protect and strengthen this right by: ## Countering the contamination of disinformation ## Supporting independent, quality journalism ## Empowering people with Media and Information Literacy, and ## Assisting Member States in meeting international standards on freedom of expression.

All four lines of action just mentioned are essential for the right to health, one of the economic, social and cultural rights recognised by the international community.

They are all essential if humanity is to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16.10 on “public access to information and fundamental freedoms”.

This SDG target helps power other SDGs, and especially SDG 3 on “good health and wellbeing” that is so critical in these times.

4 Format Types In contaminating public understanding of different aspects of the pandemic and its effects, COVID-19 disinformation has harnessed a wide range of formats. We'll explore the four main format types.

9 Key Themes We'll also explore the nine key themes present in content associated with the disinfodemic.

4 Response Categories We'll examine the 10 types of identified disinformation responses, which are grouped under four umbrella categories.

Main Disinfodemic Types

Explore the four main disinfodemic format types.
Combating the Disinfodemic: Working for truth in the time of COVID-19 Course - Lesson Excerpt

Combating the Disinfodemic Four Main Disinfodemic Types

In contaminating public understanding of the pandemic and its effects, COVID-19 disinformation has harnessed a wide range of formats.

1. Emotive narrative constructs and memes

2. Fabricated websites and authoritative identities

Unmask disinformation agents

3. Fraudulently altered, fabricated, or decontextualised images and videos

These are used to create confusion and generalised distrust and/or evoke strong emotions through viral memes or false stories.

4. Disinformation infiltrators and orchestrated campaigns

These formats may also include artificial amplification and antagonism by bots and trolls as part of organised disinformation campaigns.

Key Themes of the Disinfodemic

The research has identified nine key themes present in content associated with the disinfodemic. These themes frequently feature racism and xenophobia.
Combating the Disinfodemic: Working for truth in the time of COVID-19 Course - Lesson Excerpt

Combating the Disinfodemic Nine Key Themes of the Disinfodemic

The research identified nine key themes present in content associated with the disinfodemic. These themes frequently feature racism and xenophobia.

How did you go? All those news stories went viral - globally. ## And they were all disinformation. ## What are the types of disinformation that are being spread? ## Let's go explore the nine themes of the disinfodemic.

1. Origins and spread of the coronavirus/ COVID-19 disease

These extend from blaming the 5G network through to chemical weapons manufacturers.

2. False and misleading statistics These are often connected to the reported incidence of the disease and mortality rates.

3. Economic Impacts This theme includes spreading false information about: the economic and health impacts of the pandemic suggestions that social isolation is not economically justified, and even claims that COVID-19 is overall creating jobs.

Worldwide, which of the following sources have been creating disinformation or misinformation?

**6. Impacts on society and the environment **

This theme in the disinfodemic ranges from panic buying triggers to false information about lockdowns.

7. Politicisation One-sided and positively-framed information is presented in an effort to negate the significance of facts that are inconvenient for certain actors in power.

Identifying Disinformation

Dissecting responses to the disinfodemic that focus on identifying COVID-19 disinformation
Combating the Disinfodemic: Working for truth in the time of COVID-19 Course - Lesson Excerpt

Combating the Disinfodemic 1. Identifying Disinformation Unpacking responses to the disinfodemic

Identifying disinformation is concerned with: monitoring fast-spreading information checking its correctness identifying who published it and why

The problem with the term "fake news" is which of the following:

Some of the responses in this category involve fact-checking which is usually followed by debunking. This means uncovering fake or decontextualised images or false claims, and then going on to prove them wrong and reveal the falsity to the public. ## A further type of response in this category is the unearthing of covert and coordinated disinformation campaigns. ## You can read more about Monitoring and fact-checking responses, as well as Investigative responses in Policy Brief 2. ## Let's explore some of the key challenges with identifying disinformation...

The sheer volume and range of COVID-19 disinformation types is posing challenges.

The challenge for fact-checkers is to operate effectively in all countries and languages, at scale and with impact.

Journalists, as key investigators of disinformation, are under particular stress as a result of COVID-19.

The mission-critical challenge is that the disinfodemic risks spreading unchecked if professional journalism fails to survive.

Producers and Distributors

Responses governing the production and distribution of COVID-19 disinformation
Combating the Disinfodemic: Working for truth in the time of COVID-19 Course - Lesson Excerpt

Combating the Disinfodemic 2. Producers and Distributors The production and distribution of COVID-19 disinformation

Producers and Distributors Covers the use of political power to shape the wider information and content ecosystem in relation to the disinfodemic.

Legislative, pre-legislative, and policy responses There are various regulatory and law enforcement interventions that individual states can take to address disinformation. ## For example, there has been a flurry of steps to prevent and punish acts of COVID-19 disinformation. ## These include criminalising acts of producing or sharing information deemed false, misleading and/or that contradicts official government communications about COVID-19. ## It also covers content takedown instructions for internet communications companies. Other policy responses include material support for news media as a bulwark against disinformation. ## Among the measures being taken are emergency decrees giving political leaders sweeping new powers, and the application of existing emergency acts to COVID-19 disinformation to enable arrests, fines and jail time for associated offences. ## In some countries, producers of independent journalism have already been arrested and detained, or deported under these laws in the context of states responding to what they deem to be false information. ## Other kinds of policy responses have included support for news media, including tax relief and funding.

They seek to mobilise online communities to help spread official public health information, as well as debunk content deemed to be false.

The concept of Infodemic from WHO refers to:

Key opportunities include:

Production and Distribution

Responses within the production and distribution of COVID-19 disinformation
Combating the Disinfodemic: Working for truth in the time of COVID-19 Course - Lesson Excerpt

Combating the Disinfodemic 3. Production and Distribution COVID-19 disinformation within production and distribution

Responses within Production and Distribution focus on actions within the primary institutions in the communications sphere - such as news media, social media, social messaging and search services.

Key Challenges include: With most of these curatorial, technical and economic steps being largely in the hands of private actors, there are inconsistent and opaque decisions being made. ## It is also unclear how Internet companies are monitoring the shift to greater automation, in terms of its effect on COVID-19 disinformation and information. ## Media diversity is a valuable contribution to society, but some news publishers are captured by forces that are unduly politicising the crisis in ways that approach the level of disinformation. ## Others are falling into the trap of legitimising disinformation peddlers and their content by applying ‘false balance’ tests, mistakenly thinking that objectivity demands it.

Supporting the Disinformation Target Audiences

Responses aimed at supporting the target audiences of COVID-19 disinformation campaigns
Combating the Disinfodemic: Working for truth in the time of COVID-19 Course - Lesson Excerpt

Combating the Disinfodemic 4. Supporting the target audiences of disinformation Addressing the targets and receivers of disinformation

These responses seek to address the targets and receivers of disinformation, including online communities, the news media and their audiences.

The responses aim to promote citizens' communications competence, which include critical thinking and digital verification skills.

There are also journalism education and training initiatives which recognise that journalists are both key responders to COVID-19 disinformation, as well as targets of it.

Internationally, which channels are circulating / transmitting false content without the guardrails of significant regulation or self-regulation?

Educational Responses These responses are being rolled out especially by public service and information literacy projects around the world, media, journalism-oriented civil society organisations and journalism schools, as well as governments.

Empowerment and credibility labelling efforts These are complementary to educational responses.

They also encourage good practices in media companies when publishing information. A widely used response is ‘signposting’ which involves providing links to trustworthy sources of information.

When is it necessary and proportionate for the state to use legal action against dangerous health messages?

The main opportunity is not only to reaffirm and remind people about norms around access to information and freedom of expression, and provide education and signals to help them, ## but to deepen and reinforce such knowledge, skills and cues in a complex and rapidly changing environment. ## The crisis provides possibilities for the public to learn to approach content with scepticism, not cynicism ## and to be empowered to make informed judgements about the disinfodemic and responses to it, ## including demanding transparency and accountability of those driving the responses.

Options for Action

What action can you take? Options for all levels from UN agencies and Member States, civil society and the news media, law enforcement and the judiciary, internet communications companies, researchers, and you.
Combating the Disinfodemic: Working for truth in the time of COVID-19 Course - Lesson Excerpt

Combating the Disinfodemic Options for Action

Disinformation thrives in the absence of verifiable, trustworthy information.

Equally, it can also flourish amid high volumes of content when people may find it difficult to distinguish credible information from disinformation, between what is a verified fact and what is not.

It exploits people’s need for sense-making of complex developments, as well as their fears, hopes and identities.

What can governments and organizations do? What can we do?

International Organizations could: Encourage donors to invest in countermeasures to COVID-19 disinformation. ## Increase support to governments to develop regulatory frameworks and policies, in line with international freedom of expression and privacy standards, to address the disinfodemic. ## Invest in monitoring the disinfodemic, and measuring and assessing the impacts of interventions within human rights frameworks. ## Work in partnership with other actors engaged in this space on the issue of disinformation. ## Increase work on Media and Information Literacy and training of journalists as significant responses to the disinfodemic.

Governments could:

Internet companies could Make investments in media support with ‘no strings attached’, and with transparency, in order avoid the appearance of interventions that serve only as public relations exercises. ## Work to boost the visibility of credible news content and financially compensate news producers whose content benefits their businesses, especially as many news organisations have removed paywalls and other barriers to content access during the pandemic. ## Avoid overreliance on automation, especially for content moderation where there is a need to expand the human review process, and transparently monitor the impact of the pandemic-induced staff shortages with a view to solving redress issues.

What is the first step that Internet companies should take to in order to counter content that potentially harms public health?

You could:

Acknowledgements

Info about the authors and credits
Combating the Disinfodemic: Working for truth in the time of COVID-19 Course - Lesson Excerpt

Combating the Disinfodemic Acknowledgements

Dr. Julie Posetti

Professor Kalina Bontcheva

This e-learning course has been developed in partnership with UNESCO by the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR).

Combating the Disinfodemic: Working for truth in the time of COVID-19 Course Author

UNESCOUNESCO is working to harness AI for sustainable development across education, the sciences, culture, communication and information, leading reflections around pressing concerns related to the rapid development of AI, from a Human Rights and ethics perspective in line with its global mandate.

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