Publications

Disinformation and democracy: The home front in the information war

30 January 2019
Paul Butcher (Policy Analyst)


Disinformation is one of the defining issues of our time. Spread and amplified by social media and an anti-establishment current in global politics that creates a demand for 'alternative narratives', the influence of fake news has become an acute threat to democratic societies.

With the European Parliament elections only a few months away, and with the upheavals of Brexit and Trump’s election in mind, stakeholders are scrambling to come up with effective counter-strategies. In this Discussion Paper, Paul Butcher assesses the various efforts that have been made to fight the spread of disinformation and finds that the results are mixed. Self-regulation by online platforms such as Twitter or Facebook puts a great deal of power in their hands, with potentially negative effects on independent news outlets that depend on social media for their outreach. State regulation, meanwhile, raises concerns of censorship. There is a danger that methods intended to reduce disinformation, implemented clumsily or without sufficient regard for their effects, will actually exacerbate the anti-establishment feeling that drives disinformation in the first place.

He, therefore, argues that, just as the disinformation problem is driven to a great extent by wider structural faults in the political system, the solution, too, must be partly structural. There must be a shift in commercial practices to disrupt the profit-making motivations driving disinformation, make online platforms more fair, transparent and open, and reduce the pressure on media outlets to compete for attention. That means that all stakeholders carry a certain degree of responsibility in the fight against disinformation, says Butcher.

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