Disinformation & Discourse: Notes from Symposium

Disinformation and Filter bubble

(Note: This is remark from 1-day symposium at August 21 in Jakarta, Indonesia by Digital Asia Hub, Berkman Klein Center and Chatham House. I participated on behalf of Open Knowledge Taiwan. The symposium adopted Chatham House Rule, so I will only write about what has been discussed in the symposium without specified the speaker unless it is already in public)

The global disinformation landscape

What is disinformation? In Chinese we often use the fakenews (假新聞) or disinformation (不實消息). But the distinction is not very clear. Based on the “Information Disorder” report by Council of Europe, we can find the following definition:

  • Dis-information. Information that is false and deliberately created to harm a person, social group, organization or country.
  • Mis-information. Information that is false, but not created with the intention of causing harm.
  • Mal-information. Information that is based on reality, used to inflict harm on a person, organization or country.

Such distinction is based on a spectrum from “falseness” to “intend to harm.” When the term “fake news” is used, usually it is in the context of “disinformation” and “misinformation.” Within this broad spectrum, several distinct types of problematic contents exist.Fake news. It’s complicated.
By Claire Wardle, First Draft News Research Directormedium.com

Among them, the satire content receives less attention. But it is potentially a source of misinformation/disinformation, depending on how much the harm will do. Satire, art, comedy and humor are also freedom of expression that may subject to state interference.

People’s Daily Quotes the Onion: Kim Jong Eun ‘Sexiest Man Alive’
The People’s Daily newspaper posted on its website a 55-photo slideshow dedicated to North Korean dictator Kim Jong…blogs.wsj.com

Is freedom of expression only about “correct” information? Not necessarily so, as pointed out by David Kaye. It can be a tool of authoritarian state. This has become a huge controversy for Malaysia’s anti-fake news law, as Barisan Nasional aims at silencing any criticism before the general election.

Legal approach

Germany’s Network Enforcement Act (Netzdurchsetzunggesetz, or NetzDG) is probably the most widely cited example as a legal approach for fake news. But it has been criticized by both academic and civil society for following reasons:

  1. Difficulty to define the scope “big social media networks”
  2. Take-down within 24 hour if obviously illegal and within 7 days for the rest is a possible violation of freedom of speech guarantees

Germany: Flawed Social Media Law
The new German law that compels social media companies to remove hate speech and other illegal content can lead to…www.hrw.org

Although German scholar sent a clear message said “Don’t copy German’s approach,” it couldn’t stop Russia from direct copy-and-paste into national law.

Russian bill is copy-and-paste of Germany’s hate speech law | Reporters without borders
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns a Russian bill that would force social networks to remove “unlawful” content…rsf.org

What remain to be seen are the transboundary cases. Although the offense may be sanctioned even if it is not committed in Germany, no foreign case has been established so far. As mentioned by the speaker, there are some discussion about whether the mutual legal assistance in criminal matters between US and Germany covers the criminal offense on “big social networks.”

Role of Platform

Platforms are based on attention-seeking economy works a bit different from advertising. Thus, platforms have a complex role in fake news as it has some clear economical drives. During the symposium, we found local differences that changes the way platform interact:

Why Facebook is losing the war on hate speech in Myanmar
YANGON, Myanmar – In April, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg told U.S. senators that the social media site was hiring…www.reuters.com

Disinformation and democracy in Indonesia – New Mandala
“Fake news” has become a buzzword in the contemporary political lexicon around the world. In Indonesia, there has been…www.newmandala.org

How South Korea’s Fake News Hijacked a Democratic Crisis
On Thursday night, South Korean president Park Geun-Hye was officially ousted from her office after a special…gizmodo.com

Different platforms has different approaches. But like many other occasions, the most discussed platform did not have someone to speak on their behalf in this symposium. In additions, it’s often the case that platform under/overestimating the capacity of user in solving the disinformation. AI is unlikely to solve it either.

Final Remark

Fakenews is like Monster “Hydra” : you chop one head and there will be two grow out immediately.

Most of the participant agree that quality journalism, media diversity and digital literacy can be solution in the long term. Although not mentioning explicitly in the symposium, the problems identified are mostly about trust. There are some questions may be worth thinking about:

  • What can we learn from other behavior-change campaign? (such as in public health)
  • After the war is over, what kind of society we would like to have?

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