Scroll to top
© 2020, Copyright 4P International Ltd IDE CHE-141.594.187
en fr

The danger of fake news in times of crisis, a public safety issue

Fake news is part of our daily life. They spare no one, especially in democracies. Given the number of users of social media, every day includes its share of dubious news, causing some or severe harm depending on their context.

In our recent events, in this case the Covid19 crisis, the cases are legion. In Iran, for example, some people have seen alcohol (which is banned in that country) as an effective remedy against this virus. It has been possible to buy adulterated drinks illegally, unfortunately killing dozens of people.

Beyond the health risks, fake news can destabilize the functioning of entire states in a short period of time. Just look at the shortages in stores, resulting from the emission of certain anxiety-provoking messages, often unfounded.
We need to
get used to this idea: the fight against fake news is becoming a matter of public security.

However, they are nothing new in themselves: the techniques of intoxication of the opposing camp, or of disinformation of the populations in times of war, go back to antiquity… But their use has accelerated. They draw their power from the virality of the Web and become a weapon by destination, in good place in cyber-arsenals.

What about at times of crisis?

In times of crisis, structures and authorities are vulnerable. They may be alert and on the lookout, but their means remain limited – even more so when it comes to information. Indeed, the suddenness of certain disasters or scandals means that content and messages must be disseminated, in multi-channels, over a wide range and in a sometimes noticeably short timeframe.

This underpins a great deal of coordination capacity. However, no State has an identified Chief Digital Officer or e-Ambassador, as may be the case in a company. The agility of the response is not guaranteed, because the multi-layered administration acts as a brake in the event of immediate crises. Fortunately, response capabilities are subject to a learning curve, as long as one can learn from each sequence, scenarios can be continually adjusted, and technology can be mastered.

What about the technology in all this?

The technological tool makes it possible to monitor and verify information at the state level. It understands the reality of suspicious information, so that they can quickly compensate for it with secure content. Having the right tools can help to get closer to the giants of the Web. Although their relationship is not intuitive and may have been marred by tax disputes, they have finally become subject to standards, the spread of fake news on these spaces being a danger for both sides. Partnerships between governments and social networks should soon be created to certify and promote on these platforms reliable information, issued or approved by public authorities.

Initiatives are therefore flourishing everywhere:

Content certification modules are put online by certain platforms, like Twitter, Facebook or Instagram do for user accounts.
Google News now includes a Fact-checking section.
WHO has launched a WhatsApp chatbot to counter the fake news circulating around Covid19.
At the country level, new and effective initiatives are being put in place, such as in West Africa, where the Presidency of Senegal has set up the hashtag #StopFakeNewsSN to flush out fake news circulating on social networks in the country. The identification and correction of fake news propagated online are carried out in a participatory manner, between the Presidency and Senegalese Internet users.

And there are two main drawbacks to this struggle:

First, the risk of censorship. While Twitter was able to "rightly" delete two tweets from Brazilian President Bolsonaro challenging the effectiveness of containment, assessing the truth at the highest level is not always easy. And the risk is never far from eliminating minority or dissenting opinions from the web. Or at least to make them lose audience and speed.
The limits of the judicial arsenal, then. On social networks, as in the cyber field more generally, the principle of inattribution reigns supreme. Given the anonymity of users, it is difficult to prosecute. In the same way that a pitcher could legitimately plead simple ignorance, knowing that his freedom of expression remains a principle...

If the fight against fake news in times of crisis requires systematic responses and counter-fires, setting up regulatory frameworks is a long-term task and ordering legal proceedings as a deterrent seems hypothetical.

4P International

4P International, expert in anti-fake news

Need Help? Chat with us