MDI: Fighting Disinformation To Protect Diversity

Over the past two years, online disinformation campaigns have increased by 150 percent.

However, as anyone who has worked in journalism knows all too well, disinformation is hardly new. It is an age old tactic, used to discredit political opponents, sway public opinion and spread hatred. In ancient times, Octavius read a falsified document purported to be Mark Anthony’s will aloud to the Roman senate, alleging that he had lost his head, and signed over all of his assets to his Egyptian mistress, Cleopatra. In more recent years, Donald Trump has accused any journalists who criticize him as spreading “fake news”—while all the while tweeting unverified information to mobilize his supporters.

Whether it is in ancient times or modern times, waged through false documents read aloud to the Roman coliseum or deep fake videos shared over social media, disinformation purposefully creates scapegoats in order for powerful people to smear their opponents, and solidify power and control. More often than not, disinformation plays on fear of the other. In Octavius’s case, it was the fear of the East, and a bias against powerful women. In Donald Trump’s, it was economic burnout from the financial crash, conveniently blamed on the elite, liberal establishment’s embrace of immigrants and generous social welfare policies.

Often, this results in further solidifying these biases, and further fracturing societies. Since the 2017 election, multiple world leaders have followed Donald Trump’s example, blaming refugees and migrants for sucking the state dry, and spreading xenophobia, and Islamophobia in the process. Whether we like to admit it or not, disinformation shapes a significant portion of the media, and with it, public opinion. These anti-immigrant messages have bolstered the power of the far right, and increased race and religion-based hate crimes and terrorist acts around the world.

At Media Diversity Institute, we focus on debunking disinformation with a goal to protect minorities, and vulnerable people who are most often scapegoated. We work with civil society organisations to pitch campaigns and stories to journalists that counter racist, xenophobic narratives, and design and implement media and information literacy initiatives that train children to identify and disregard information from a young age. In the brave new world of disinformation warfare, we consider ourselves not to be soldiers, but to be medics and peace negotiators, identifying problems, and treating wounds with solutions.

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