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Anti-Corruption & Pro-Democracy Council: Lessons in countering disinformation
January 9, 2023

On December 9, International Anti-Corruption Day, the YLAI Network hosted an Anti-Corruption & Pro-Democracy Global Council on Twitter Spaces that featured three anti-disinformation experts. 

We were joined by Emilie Bruchon, a career U.S. diplomat who is serving in the State Department’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs as a senior advisor for countering disinformation; Ernesto Nuñez Chacón, International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) Professional Fellows Program alumni and the founder and director of La Doble Tracción, a Costa Rican transmedia newsroom that combines investigative journalism, humor, and gamification to encourage civic engagement among young people; and Ester Athanásio, a YLAI alumna and Ph.D. candidate in public policy who has worked as a communications specialist for social and environmental causes. Ester has also worked to counter corruption within Brazil, focusing her thesis and dissertation on Brazilian media regulations. 

The council focused on the impact of corruption and disinformation and how transparent business models and inclusivity in civic engagement can be used to strengthen democracies and promote prosperity. Check out this recap below, and listen in on the conversation.

Can you define disinformation and how it differs from misinformation?

Emilie: Misinformation is wrong information that is often accidentally wrong, like a wrong date or wrong location in a photo caption. Disinformation is intentionally wrong information spread with a purpose, usually to cause harm. Disinformation can also be based on mostly true facts that are stripped of context.  Anyone who shares this false information, whether intentionally or not, becomes a part of the problem. 

How are disinformation and corruption linked?

Ester: Transparency is the center of actions against corruption; it’s about public information. If we don’t have access to real and clear information, our public process of civic engagement is weak. We need real and clear information for accountability. Fake news is used to confuse public opinion and to retain power and attack opponents mainly during elections. Corruption and disinformation affect the way public decisions are made. 

How can people identify disinformation in their daily lives through social media or other means of communication? What are the red flags people should be aware of?

Ernesto: It’s very important for news organizations to be accountable for misinformation and the proliferation of content that they put out under journalistic principles. One of the main things people can do is make sure they’re following basic journalistic principles, such as verifying accuracy, context, names, public interest, etc. 

There are over 300 fact-checking services throughout Latin America that check what politicians, blogs, and influencers are saying; however, there aren’t these same services for journalism. Journalists aren’t supposed to use adjectives without context (rampant, exponential, etc.); they are supposed to use numbers and let the readers determine what those numbers represent. 

Ester: It’s essential to think about and understand that not everything is true. Anyone can put information online. Before you share something, think about who wrote it and why, what was the motive/purpose in writing it, and finally check for disinformation by verifying the information on a journalistic platform or a government page, for example. 

How has disinformation impacted your community, businesses, and/or the civic engagement process?

Ernesto: The main impact disinformation has had is that disinformation has become part of our culture. It’s one of the biggest problems we’re facing because changing culture is one of the most difficult things to do. You are a part of disinformation if you cultivate, share, or invest time in it. 

In the communities I work in, it is very common to engage and share content before even clicking on it. This content caters to peoples’ biases. It has impacted the business of journalism; before, the main challenge was to compete with big media, now it’s more complex, we have to compete with other sources that are not journalistic, that don’t adhere to journalistic principles and are a part of the culture of disinformation. Irresponsibility from news organizations in addition to this creates a huge civic engagement issue.

What role does civic engagement play in countering corruption?

Emilie: The reason that democracy works is because people can hold their elected officials accountable. We’re all stakeholders in local communities. Getting involved at the community level, and demanding transparency at the local level to meet citizen needs, is the most powerful way to build a culture of openness and accountability.

Ester: Journalists and professionals have a large social role, and fake news is a systematic attack against them and against democracy. We need to be on the opposite side of fake news and corruption. Fact-checking agencies do a great job, but not enough. We need more education, our people need more consistent information about political education, not just during election season. 

Ernesto: Civic engagement is the key to countering all problems in our societies, specifically with countering corruption and disinformation. Civic engagement has to become a culture, civic engagement means that if you do not approve of certain sources of content, do not invest yourself into that source of content. 

Invest yourself in supporting other news outlets; that is the culture that solidifies and makes the system of disinformation remain and survive and even flourish. 

What are community leaders and entrepreneurs like yourself doing to counter disinformation and corruption?

Ernesto: Focusing on battling news phobia, which we define as this phenomena that happens when journalism is so boring that we fall asleep when reporting or listening to it. In the U.S., 50% of teenagers consume news through YouTube, but they’re starting to get more informed from celebrities and influencers than from journalistic outlets. Journalism should be a pleasurable experience and become a part of daily life. My company, La Doble Tracción, mixes investigative journalism with humor and gamification. We produce news games like video games and TV game shows. For example, during the last presidential election, we had young hosts play games with presidential candidates, competing against disinformation and influencers and celebrities and all of these opinion outlets that by themselves are not bad, but they cannot substitute journalism. 

Ester: Media literacy is a tool to change our current context because it is about content, not technology. Today most people have access to technology, but few of them have enough media and political education to understand. 

What advice do you have for individuals who are looking to take action?

Emilie: The Digital Communication Network is a civil society organization with more than 10,000 members worldwide. DCN is a community of digital age professionals that ensure that citizens everywhere have access to accurate information. Membership is free and the application process is simple. 

Ester: It’s simple: If you aren’t sure, don’t share. If you know something is fake, fact-check first and let your friends know.

Ernesto: Block all the news outlets that don’t comply with journalistic principles and invest your resources into news organizations. It’s very important because even if we get rid of disinformation, we still need a vibrant journalistic system. 

The Emerging Media Leaders Professional Fellows Program is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State with funding provided by the U.S. Government and administered by ICFJ.  

The YLAI Fellowship is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State with funding provided by the U.S. government and administered by IREX.

Thank you to all three of our anti-disinformation experts for joining us for our Anti-Corruption & Pro-Democracy Global Council. Next, take the #YLAIforIntegrity pledge and commit yourself to doing your part in countering corruption and stopping the spread of misinformation.