Photo: El Financiero
This article was originally published in Spanish in El Financiero on October 21, 2021.
In the face of widespread disinformation, Guy Mentel, the Executive Director of Global Americans, argues that institutions, governments, and society must put a stop to the pandemic of disinformation and fake news that currently permeates the world.
According to the Digital 2021 Report, approximately 56.4 percent of online users expressed concern about not knowing what is real and fake when it comes to news on the web (see page 70 of the report). Disaggregated by country, the report shows that Brazil is the country with the greatest concern regarding fake news and disinformation (84 percent), while the Netherlands (32.3 percent) is the country least concerned about this issue. In Mexico, 59.5 percent of those polled expressed concern.
During a webinar held on the International Day of Universal Access to Information, the director of Global Americans said that to discuss the causes and consequences of disinformation, it is necessary to understand the present context in the United States and the rest of the world.
Following an analysis carried out over 16 months, together with an interdisciplinary team from countries such as Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela, and Argentina, Global Americans released the article, “The Disinformation Pandemic: COVID-19 and the Chaotic Cacophony of Lies and Distortions.”
While the article focuses on the COVID-19 pandemic, Mentel notes that there are themes aside from COVID-19 that contribute to the propagation of false information. The final report by Global Americans and its partner organizations—Medianálisis, the Universidad del Rosario, the Tecnológico de Monterrey, and CADAL—found that the objectives of disinformation campaigns are generally to create skepticism and distrust in democratic institutions.
“This is also largely due to the fact that internet access and social media consumption has become increasingly ubiquitous,” according to Mentel. “Disinformation is not only concentrated in digital media and conspiracy theory channels, but is also propagated through traditional media outlets.”
The director of Global Americans pointed out that while some profiles may rely on a niche audience, they can reach a larger, U.S. audience when paired with foreign channels and more traditional media outlets.
“What we are seeing is that influencers and channels in Spanish, in Latin American countries, are spreading disinformation and conspiracy theories about U.S. politics,” said the expert, “copying or echoing messages typical of extreme right-wing ecosystems.”
How to combat disinformation and fake news?
The executive director argues that the most effective tool to combat disinformation is to name and shame, not only by pointing out disinformation as such, but also by identifying the periodicals, public profiles, and outlets that are spreading misinformation.
“We need to raise the cost for this kind of inaction, or deliberate action. I think it will take an effort not only from institutions and academics, but also from society as a whole,” said the Global Americans director.
However, one of the main problems that Mentel noted is that the profiles that spread harmful disinformation create multiple channels to avoid being identified or eliminated. He added that a state of constant vigilance is required, given the negative impact of disinformation not only on trust towards institutions, but on trust towards information in general.
Likewise, he specified that disinformation campaigns do not always necessarily promote a certain narrative or campaign. Some aim only to sow doubts and distrust among the population.
“I think it is necessary for leaders to point out and elevate the truth and facts, and in the same way, we should also expect civil society actors and private media platforms to do the same,” he added.
Guy Mentel is the Executive Director of Global Americans.