Combating fake news and dangerous content in the digital age

13 Nov 2018 11:15h - 12:15h

Event report

[Read more session reports and live updates from the 13th Internet Governance Forum]

The session looked at the issues related to ‘hoax’, ‘fake news’ and ‘disinformation’ online and recommended education, critical media literacy, and support for journalists as possible responses. Acknowledging the complexity of the issue, the session recognised that there are no easy solutions and that the multistakeholder approaches are crucial.

The session was organised by the Indonesian ICT Ministry and focused on the issues related to ‘hoax’, ‘fake news’ and ‘disinformation’, and how to address them.

The first speaker, Mr Anang Latif gave an overview of the situation in Indonesia and the most pressing digital concerns. He argued that establishing fibre optic networks, through the Palapa Ring project, to connect all cities and districts is an important concern for the responsibility of the government. He highlighted the positive impact of increased connectivity on economic development and stressed that Indonesia needs to keep up to date in order to not become the ‘victim of technology development’. He expressed concerns about a rise in disinformation and fake news and its impact on democracies and democratic processes.

Picking up on that, Mr Amos Toh, Legal Advisor to the UN Special Rapporteur on  Freedom of Expression, argued that we need to gain a better understanding of what constitutes the fake news problem. The lack of an agreed-upon definition of fake news opens the door to potential abuse and censorship. He also pointed out that fake news and disinformation needs to be understood before the history of a country and its cultural context. As a remedy to fake news, he stressed the key role of education and also pointed out that prohibition is not always the best approach.

Following Toh, Ms Irene Poetranto, Senior Researcher, Citizen Lab of the University of Toronto,  also stressed that definitions matter greatly when addressing hoaxes, fake news, and disinformation. Further, she argued that cultural diversity makes these issues potentially explosive. As a remedy, co-operation between various stakeholders is crucial.

Relating her intervention back to the potential misuse of legislation, Ms Jac sm Kee, Programme Manager, Association for Progressive Communications,  explained that Malaysia passed a law on countering fake news just before the recent elections and argued that it is important to look at the intentions behind such a law. In this case, Kee argued, the law was passed to prevent discussions on high-profile corruption cases, thus misusing fake news legislation to accomplish unrelated political goals. Kee stressed that there are no easy solutions given the complexity of the issue and, therefore, a complex ecosystem approach is required.

Agreeing with the complexity of the situation, Mr Jake Lucchi, Head of Safety, Content  and Social Impact at Google, argued that associated with fake news and disinformation, we find a plethora of issues including, among other things, election interference, hatred directed at religious or minority groups, and questions of objective and high-quality journalism. He explained that Google works through product solutions and specific policies to address the issue. For example, when it comes to searches related to topics of public interest, Google’s algorithms prioritise authoritativeness over relevance, in order to amplify high-quality sources and good journalism. In terms of policy, advertising revenue is withheld from contentious websites. He also pointed to Google’s policies on hate speech removal.  

Ms Julie Ward, European Parliament, British Member,  stressed that interference with democratic process is a concern for all countries, including Western countries. She pointed to examples such as the Brexit referendum in the UK, the 2016 US Presidential Elections, and the 2018 Brazilian General Elections. She argued that across many cases of election interference, similar methods and companies can be identified. She also addressed the question of how this can be changed. First, education for citizenship and in particular e-citizenship and the (digital) media literacy are crucial. Second, supporting quality journalism and media and individual journalists under threat needs to be a focus.

A question from the floor asked the panellists to specify their suggestions for addressing fake news and disinformation. Kee emphasised the strengthening of the media as an institution, including clear policies and legal frameworks on freedom of information and expression and data protection. This supports addressing the trust deficit that traditional institutions increasingly suffer from. Further, content creation by different actors and communities needs to be supported and, more generally, a culture of the media literacy needs to be created.

Other panellists agreed with this. In addition, Poetranto stressed the need for research in this area – including additional funding and the need for co-operation between academics and platforms.

Concluding the session, Ms Marcella Zalianty, SIBERKREASI,  emphasised the importance of working on digital literacy in a multistakeholder and multidisciplinary manner. Further, digital literacy should also include cognitive and emotional skills.


By Katharina E. Höne