Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Information pollution in the era of disinformation

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By Marco Pizzorno

The impact of disinformation on human rights is a growing concern in contemporary society. Disinformation, defined as the deliberate spread of false or misleading information, has become increasingly prevalent due to advancements in technology and the ease with which information can be disseminated. This phenomenon poses substantial threats to the enjoyment of basic human rights, including freedom of expression, access to information, and the right to a fair trial.

One of the primary ways in which disinformation affects human rights is by undermining freedom of expression. Disinformation campaigns aim to manipulate public opinion by spreading false or misleading information that often aligns with specific agendas or biases. This hinders individuals’ ability to access accurate information and form reliable opinions, thus undermining their freedom of expression. When people are exposed to disinformation, they may unknowingly promote falsehoods, unknowingly contribute to the spread of disinformation, or self-censor out of fear of backlash for expressing dissenting views.

One of the most significant impacts of disinformation on human rights is its ability to create division and hostility among different groups in society. Disinformation campaigns often target vulnerable populations, such as ethnic or religious minorities, to fuel discrimination and prejudice. This can result in the erosion of the right to equality, as marginalized communities face increased marginalization and hostility.

Moreover, disinformation can also undermine freedom of expression and access to information. When false information is widely circulated, it becomes increasingly difficult for individuals to discern truth from fiction. This can lead to self-censorship and a reluctance to engage in open and honest discussions, ultimately restricting freedom of expression.

What is disinformation for the United Nations?

The United Nations reports verbatim that there is no universally accepted definition of disinformation. No one definition may be sufficient on its own, given the multiple and different contexts in which concerns over disinformation may arise, including with regard to issues as diverse as electoral process, public health, armed conflicts, or climate change. UNDP Europe and Central Asia, on the other hand, indicates various types of the concept of disinformation. The narratives, in fact, list the differences between: Disinformation, Misinformation, Malinformation and Hate speech.

What are the differences?

The disinformation concerns false information and deliberately created to harm a person, social group, organization, or country. Misinformation is, on the other hand, referred to false information, but not created with the intention of causing damage.

Malinformation is an information based on real facts, but manipulated to harm a person, organization, or country. And finally the Hate Speech is “any kind of communication in speech, writing or behaviour, that attacks or uses pejorative or discriminatory language about a person or a group based on who they are, in other words, based on their religion, ethnicity, nationality, race, colour, descent, gender or other identity factors. This is often rooted in prejudice, and generates intolerance and hatred and, in certain contexts, can be demeaning and divisive” and even lead to offline harm or violence.

What effects in war?

Misinformation, disinformation, and hate speech (MDH) can have significant harmful effects on populations affected by conflict and humanitarian operations. These forms of communication, often spread through social media and other online platforms, can exacerbate existing tensions, intensify violence, hinder peacebuilding efforts, and undermine humanitarian action.

One of the main ways MDH is harmful to these populations is by fueling and escalating conflicts. In conflict zones, false or misleading information can spread quickly, leading to a breakdown of trust and inciting violence between different groups. Disinformation campaigns can manipulate narratives and mislead people about the causes or perpetrators of the conflict, further polarizing communities and deepening divisions. This can make it more challenging for humanitarian organizations to provide assistance and protection to those in need.

MDH can also hinder peacebuilding efforts by spreading hatred and sowing discord among communities. Hate speech can further marginalize already vulnerable groups, leading to discrimination, exclusion, and even violence. It can amplify existing prejudices and stereotypes, making it harder for people to come together and find common ground for peaceful resolution of conflicts.

Furthermore, MDH can undermine humanitarian action by spreading false information about aid organizations, their intentions, and their activities. This can lead to mistrust and reluctance among affected populations to seek and accept assistance, creating barriers to delivering much-needed aid and support. Additionally, disinformation campaigns can spread rumors and misinformation about public health issues, vaccination campaigns, or other essential services, which can have detrimental effects on public health and exacerbate the humanitarian crisis.

To mitigate the harmful effects of MDH in conflict and humanitarian situations, it is crucial to promote media literacy and critical thinking skills among affected populations. Providing accurate and timely information through reliable and trusted sources can help counteract the spread of misinformation and disinformation. Collaborations between humanitarian organizations and local communities can also play a vital role in identifying and debunking false or harmful narratives.

Countering disinformation

Seventy-seventh session of the provisional agenda on “Promotion and protection of human rights: Human Rights questions, including alternative approaches for improving the effective enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms”,clearly indicates the current useful tools for countering  disinformation for the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms. One of the key paragraphs in the published report  “State approaches to tackling disinformation”.

In this narrative it is literally reported that the States have a crucial role to play in combating the impacts of disinformation, both with regard to their own actions and relating to their duty to protect against human rights abuses by third parties, including business enterprises. Addressing the multifaceted phenomenon of disinformation is a complex task. Human rights and freedom of expression standards, developed over time, provide suitable guidance for the challenges raised by disinformation, establishing normative signposts for a well- informed citizenry to engage in democratic processes. By creating the conditions for human rights, pluralism and tolerance to flourish, States can help reduce the risks associated with disinformation.

An extremely necessary tool for the protection and safeguarding of human life and dignity that should be strengthened by governments to prevent targeted psy-operations from drag the world into a third world war

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