DCU experts say Ireland must show leadership to counter online disinformation

DCU experts say Ireland must show leadership to counter online disinformation

As Democratic Senators in the US continue to call on Facebook and Twitter to take action to prevent the spreading of anti-vaccine content by a number of accounts known as the ‘Disinformation Dozen’, experts in Dublin City University believe it is incumbent on Ireland to show leadership on the issue of disinformation when so many of these companies are based here.

Tackling the spread of false information

Launching their new book ‘Disinformation and Manipulation in Digital Media’, Professor Jane Suiter and Dr Eileen Culloty in DCU’s School of Communications described disinformation as a challenging problem which requires a multi-pronged and whole-of-society approach to tackle the deliberate spread of false or misleading information.

Jane Suiter from DCU said: “People create and spread disinformation for different reasons. With vaccine disinformation, we can see there’s a committed group of anti-vaccine and 'alternative health' activists who create a lot of the content. Others are trying to profit from people’s fears by selling products and services and some are exploiting it for political reasons. Social media platforms are central to all of this because they make it possible. Ireland has an opportunity and indeed a responsibility to show leadership in this area by calling for robust oversight mechanisms as the European headquarters of many platforms are based here.”

Eileen Culloty explained that: “Social media companies have taken some steps to reduce the visibility of disinformation, but their platforms are still awash with rumours and conspiracy theories about Covid-19 vaccines. At the same time, digital advertising helps people profit from disinformation while recommendation algorithms push people towards more extreme content.”

Disinformation is falling between the cracks

Additionally, the two DCU experts maintained that the issue of disinformation is falling between the cracks in Ireland as the development of relevant bills emerge separately and siloed from one another. The current Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill will introduce online safety codes for harmful content, but there is no reference to disinformation in the Bill. Meanwhile, the Electoral Reform Bill will only regulate during the period of an election campaign. 

Eileen Culloty from DCU said: “Debates are ongoing about how to counteract online disinformation without undermining freedom of expression. It is challenging because disinformation practices are constantly evolving. The reality is that we need interventions on multiple fronts - technological, regulatory, and educational - and we need greater cooperation from social media companies. We have seen how disinformation erodes trust in scientific expertise, undermines the democratic process, and amplifies social divisions. Building societal resilience to disinformation is a major international challenge and Ireland has a key role to play.”

New book analysing disinformation landscape

Newly published by Routledge, ‘Disinformation and Manipulation in Digital Media’ provides a comprehensive and up-to-date understanding of online disinformation and its potential countermeasures, drawing on research from multiple disciplines and international case studies. This up-to-date and thorough analysis of the disinformation landscape will be of interest to students and scholars in the fields of journalism, communications, politics, and policy as well as policymakers, technologists, and media practitioners.

Fact box: How to talk to loved ones who are spreading disinformation?

  • Do your Research: Before talking to someone, do some research yourself to be informed about the topic. Consult fact checks and reliable information sources to better understand the disinformation.
  • Choose a suitable time: Find a suitable time when the person seems open to and ready for a discussion.
  • Keep it conversational: No one wants to be lectured at so keep it conversational - ask questions and listen to what they have to say.
  • Show Empathy: Stay calm and be empathic. Regardless of beliefs, when someone is feeling stressed or concerned, that needs to be acknowledged and taken seriously.
  • Be Patient: Give it time. You can’t expect people to suddenly change their minds after one conversation. That’s why empathy and support is key over the long-term.