About the collective responsibility of state, media, civil society and user against disinformation

From a speech at the round-table meeting “Disinformation in the media. Ways to overcome it” (Disinformation in the media. Ways to overcome it, Minsk, October 17, 2019)

In the situation of the increased volume of fake news in both traditional and new media, an increase in cases of manipulation of the consciousness of information consumers, it is not possible to assign responsibility for controlling the quality of the produced and consumed content to the state, civil society, or journalists. It seems that all actors down to the average consumer of news should be included in the zone of collective social responsibility. Understanding and accepting this responsibility will probably be the best anti-disinformation strategy that can produce not short-term, but sustainable and lasting results. This position is confirmed by a large number of guides developed and implemented in recent years and educational projects that are aimed not only at journalists but also at a wide range of information consumers: children, parents, researchers, human rights activists, public figures, etc. What exactly is the responsibility of each side and by what means can success be achieved in the fight against disinformation?

The responsibility of the state lies in the development of a regulatory framework for the fight against disinformation, ensuring the monitoring of the legality of its implementation and the analysis of law enforcement practice and ways to improve it. Examples of areas of activity include: timely improvement of the regulatory framework in accordance with international standards, implementation of best practices in national practice, development of detailed programs and action plans to combat disinformation for ministries and departments, maintaining a balance between positive and negative obligations of the state to ensure information security, and the implementation of other rights of citizens (for example, freedom of speech).

The responsibility of editorial offices primarily concerns the organization of the work of employees taking into account the latest standards in the fight against fake news. As the areas of activity, we will designate: bringing internal policy, standards of professional activity, a code of ethics in line with the requirements of the modern world, providing employees with access to the necessary tools for data verification, data protection technologies, etc., reviewing competition practices, organizing training and development of employees.

The responsibility of the journalists themselves should include the obligation to provide high-quality and reliable content. To fulfill this requirement, journalists must follow professional ethics, raise awareness of data verification techniques and anti-disinformation tools in a timely manner, use the strategy of reporting real events instead of responding to fake news.

The responsibility of scientists and representatives of academic science in the field of combating disinformation includes the use of the potential of science to identify and prevent the appearance of false data. Researchers’ areas of work include: studying the phenomenon of disinformation, the mechanisms of its dissemination, using verified, objective information and facts in their activities, upholding a rational view of the problem in general, mastering data verification algorithms, developing new tools, methods, and technologies for countering disinformation, promoting a systematic approach to the fight against disinformation, conducting expert reviews of bills and other proposed measures to combat disinformation.

The responsibility of non-governmental organizations and civil society initiatives lies in the plane of: monitoring the balance between the exercise of the right to freely receive and disseminate information and the state’s desire to protect the country’s information security, assisting the state in developing a regulatory framework and implementing counter-disinformation programs. Activities in organizing advocacy companies, implementing educational and enlightenment initiatives, and protecting the interests of civil society can be fruitful in this area.

The responsibility of the average consumer of information is to exercise awareness and a critical approach to information in everyday practices, not to disseminate knowingly false information. An individual should be aware when choosing information sources, implement independent quality control of information (including informing moderators about the placement of suspicious materials), have knowledge of information verification algorithms, know the signs of disinformation messages, understand the difference between disinformation and criticism, between expressing opinions and subjective preferences.

It seems that the crusade against disinformation can be effective only via the coordinated interaction of all actors.

Nadzeya Ilyushenka, Research Fellow of the Center for Knowledge and Competency Management of the Institute of Philosophy of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus

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