Fighting disinformation as a cybersecurity challenge

7 Dec 2021 14:30h - 15:00h

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Event report

Why disinformation and cybersecurity can and should meet? The manipulation of facts and their spread online is a digital risk that has political, economic, and social consequences. In general, disinformation campaigns pose cybersecurity threats for businesses, civil society organisations, and governments. However, these two interconnected issues are rarely discussed together. The main aim of this workshop was to understand how disinformation and cybersecurity can be addressed holistically, from a multistakeholder and global perspective.

Mr Michael Zinkanell (Deputy Director, Austrian Institute for European and Security Policy (AIES)) stressed that disinformation is not a novel phenomenon, but that it now has new characteristics. Zinkanell outlined three main features of current disinformation. First, the speed and accessibility of spreading information online. Second, the increasing and undeniable dependency on digital technologies for everyday life. And lastly, the current geopolitical tension that is on the rise, where new forms of warfare are emerging.

Mr Mohamed El Dahshan (Development Economist, OXCON Consulting) talked about the economic benefit of disinformation, and discussed examples from the African regional perspective. El Dahshan highlighted that in the case of disinformation campaigns in developing countries, there is often a lack of incentive to combat it. In fact, in many African and Middle Eastern countries, foreign propaganda or disinformation also benefits some local actors sufficiently that they have no incentive to try to curtail that.

Mr Viktoras Daukšas (Head, brought the perspective of a civil society organisation attempting to monitor and combat disinformation. Daukšas emphasised the importance of common definitions and methodologies to detect, analyse, and combat disinformation campaigns. He suggested dropping the term ‘fake news’ altogether, since it is just a buzzword with no theoretical depth. Instead, ‘disinformation’ and ‘misinformation’ are more useful. The difference between them is in the intent: honest mistakes would be categorised as ‘misinformation’, while systemic ways to deceive would be ‘disinformation’.

The session ended with final takeaways regarding solutions for disinformation and cybersecurity threats. In the short term, the panellists agreed that sites and users that spread disinformation should be taken offline. Data-driven approaches should be used to analyse who is behind disinformation campaigns and why. In the long run, these measures are not enough. From the civil society perspective, media literacy is one of the most important tools to empower citizens. From the governmental perspective, there is a need to constantly re-evaluate policy decisions given the rapidly changing scenario. Lastly, it is important to take into account that the disinformation phenomenon poses different challenges in different regions of the world, and so regional distinctions are relevant when thinking about how to mitigate this global issue.

By Paula Szewach

Session in numbers and graphs

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