Experts Consider Approaches to Combat Disinformation

Editor’s note: In the wake of the Capitol insurrection on January 6, 2021, and the associated information revolution that perpetuated disinformation from conspiracy theorists and politicians alike across social media platforms, experts are studying and proposing multiple approaches to combat disinformation in the future. IPA presents a round-up below of several recent publications looking at the issue from their vantage points. While IPA doesn’t endorse one approach over another, the association is devoted to promoting a discourse around these fundamental information topics and we hope you will comment and provide feedback to enrich the discussion.

Defense One: Three Steps to Fight Online Disinformation and Extremism

Peter Singer, strategist at New Ameria and author of LikeWar: The Weaponization of Social Media, continues his coverage of online disinformation with a Defense One op-ed here proposing near term, mid term, and long term actions. In the near term, Singer promotes changing the message, and notes that in the wake of Jan. 6, extremists have modified their messages but private social media and tech companies have also sought to enforce their policies and restrict disinformation. It is up to the public to hold firms accountable for closing the pathways of disinformation. For the mid-term, he recommends sifting the data – that is, now that much of the data about what extremists posted and did on previously hidden platforms is out in the open, we should be looking closely at that data to identify additional threats and stop them before they act. Lastly, Singer focuses on what so many of us at IPA feel is core to cognitive security – education. His long term proposal to “inoculate the system” promotes teaching consumers of online information digital literacy skills to discern when information is authentic or fake and know when they are being manipulated, creating a new generation of cyber citizens.

Foreign Policy: America Needs a New Way to Combat Disinformation Now

In Foreign Policy, Vera Zakem, a senior technology and policy advisor at the Institute for Security and Technology and a member of the bipartisan Task Force on U.S. Strategy to Support Democracy and Counter Authoritarianism, and Moira Whelan, director of democracy and technology at the National Democratic Institute and former staffer of the House Select Committee on Homeland Security when the 9/11 Commission Report was released, propose that Congress should authorize the creation of a National Commission on Information Integrity.

“The 9/11 attacks led to the formation of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, which investigated the root causes of the attack and held not just terrorists, but also executive branch agencies and elected officials accountable. This moment in history calls for a similar undertaking. Congress should authorize the creation of a National Commission on Information Integrity that would focus on disinformation, online extremism, hate speech, and the media landscape and its impact on American democracy. A healthy democracy needs citizens who actively participate in informed discussions, both online and off, and the government can play a significant role in getting us there.”

Zakem and Whelan propose a bi-partisan, independent Information Integrity Commission be stood up quickly enough to release a report by summer of 2022, in advance of the next pivotal congressional elections, have a broad mandate, and recommend a plan for the public and private sectors to partner to strengthen America’s information ecosystem. “The final report of the commission should include a thorough counterdisinformation strategy, proposals for senior leadership to coordinate the government’s response, concrete ideas for private-public partnerships, and guidelines on how to use emerging technologies to address the issues at hand.”

Rand Corporation: Media Literacy Standards to Counter Truth Decay

As part of its Countering Truth Decay initiative, authors of this new report from Rand Corporation identify a single, concise set of Media Literacy standards to guide teachers, policymakers, curriculum developers, advocates, and researchers in determine how to implement media literacy education across society. Rand’s team synthesized myriad existing standards using the lens of Truth Decay—drawing from standards in ML, digital literacy, information literacy, news literacy, social and emotional learning, and other areas. The report aligns the list of Media Literacy standards with major trends in “Truth Decay” or “the diminishing role that facts, data, and analysis play in political and civic discourse.” This is worth a review for anyone looking for a foundation for educational or advocacy programs.

The preceding reports and articles are only the tip of the iceberg. The community that monitors information warfare, disinformation, politics, and cyber have amassed a large trove of studies and proposals. A few others with constructive ideas are worth a read: