Don’t call it “fake news” call it disinformation and think twice before spreading it because plenty of people who want to create even more rifts in society take advantage of a lack of critical thinking.
This was one of the key messages from a session with experts who counter extremist violence online at the International Conference on Media & Conflict in Islamabad Feb 11, 2020.
Rashad Ali of the Institute of Strategic Dialogue, UK, Ramsha Jahangir of Dawn, Kieren Aris of Moonshot CVE UK, and Usama Khilji of Bolo Bhi, highlighted the problems of the dynamic information coming from multiple sources in the online space.
If you want to be able to detect fake news or disinformation deliberately being spread, Jahangir said, check how sharp spikes in trends show on Twitter, which the platform also identifies itself.
“Don’t tweet a hashtag even if you are condemning it, because that way you are amplifying its reach and you are actually contributing to it trending,” she said. It is also important for people to be critical of messages they get on WhatsApp.
According to Kiren Aris, an expert on disinformation, we need to be mindful as violent extremism is evolving. “It is seeking out societal mobilization and political mainstreaming.”
He also cautioned talk of countering these phenomena with regulation. “Is there a place for regulation? Possibly. The reason I say possibly is because we need to remember there is a difference between disinformation and misinformation.” Disinformation is a hostile intentional act, so when you decide to regulate, are you regulating information itself or actors who have the intention to spread disinformation.
Bolo Bhi’s Usama Khilji thinks that censorship is also a sophisticated form of disinformation because critical voices are silenced and a lot of information is stopped from reaching the intended consumer. As far as blocking content is concerned, it’s just simply not effective, he said. That is why we talk about self-regulation and industry-led solutions such as filters for children.
It is becoming increasingly important for people on Twitter, WhatsApp, Facebook to be able to allow critical voices to be heard and not silenced just because governments or people disagree with them. According to Rashad Ali, critical thinking isn’t the ability to disagree with something you don’t like. It is the ability to disagree with something that supports your bias. “What we do need to understand is more transparency in how the information is presented to us, is created.”
Ayesha Shabbir is a NUST student who reported on the ICMC 2020 as part of Samaa Digital’s media partnership