One World. But a Divided Net – Stephanie Li

“In Pakistan, the establishment sees CIA plots everywhere, while one of the New York Times reporters was ensnared to the trap of disinformation and accused by the AI Qaeda as part of a CIA anti-Islam plot. And even today, the journalist still gets blasted on Twitter for being either a CIA spy or a dead terrorist.”

That was one of the news I read before embarking on a flight to Berlin. I found it ridiculous at first, but later it all turned into worries and fears. In today’s morass of disinformation, everyone in the world is embroiled in the process of truth-seeking, even most end up in concocted facts. It was only until recently that people start to realize how disinformation has been weaponized as political tools that unveil the ongoing worldwide fight on TRUTH.

In my first session in IGF, I was being asked by the following questions:

“Do you feel exposed to a lot of disinformation?”

“How confident are you to identify news that misrepresents reality or is fake?”

“Who defines disinformation?”

During the session, I answered “NO” right away that rejected the possibilities of receiving disinformation. But as more and more reflection bring in my mind, I realize that the problem is bigger than I think. 

During the six-month-long protest in Hong Kong, Twitter and Facebook have suspended numerous accounts that are believed to initiate a disinformation campaign originating from inside China. While Facebook suspended several pages and accounts participated in the activity, Twitter scrapped more than 900 accounts related to the misinformation campaign.

So what can we do?

In Open Forum #44, stakeholders from various backgrounds discussed the challenge and solution to combat disinformation. The discussion emphasized the responsibilities of the dominant tech players such as Facebook, Google and Twitter and the respective regulations to be imposed on the big firms. It highlighted a number of measures that are already taken, including legislation to counter disinformation, the establishment of international fact-checking networks and improvement of the algorithm to foster high-quality journalism. The forum also stressed the need to understand users interact with information on social media platforms in a bit to ensure the veracity of the content.

The good news is, many countries and private companies in the world have initiated campaigns to counter disinformation. In Latvia, “Theory of lies” is the most popular prime time show to uncover Russia propaganda which is a part of Kremlin’s strategy to influence public opinions. In Ukraine, it has a multilingual “stop-fake” team to rebuke disinformation. Twitter announced a ban on all political advertisements, while Facebook also encounters pressure to restrict political adverts. But all these efforts are far from enough to combat the worldwide war on disinformations.

While disinformation is taking over the world, sadly and frustratedly, many countries still lack basic internet infrastructure. As UN Secretary-General António Guterres stressed, “The three main divides – the digital divide, the social divide, and the political divide – are still profound.”

“We can no longer allow digital technology to run away with us,” he added. The net is still divided, but as he said, we can no longer allow digital technology to run away with us.

About the writer

Stephanie Li, NetMission Ambassador of class 2018/19, Hong Kong
Bachelor’s Degree in English Language and Literature, Shue Yan University