The company behind Facebook and Instagram has shut down over 1,000 accounts from Nicaragua
The company behind Facebook and Instagram has shut down over 1,000 accounts from Nicaragua, claiming that they were part of the active disinformation campaign run by the government. Meta investigators say that the campaign started three years ago in an attempt to discredit the opposition, and was also run on other platforms as well, such at Twitter and TikTok. This is just one example of a myriad, revealing the power of disinformation and misinformation in a world that is increasingly connected to dissemination platforms. The interests behind the fake information are many, and some involve state actors. In order to fight back, a well coordinated public communication campaign is needed, Romanian Foreign Minister Bogdan Aurescu recently said, speaking in the Atlantic Council:
“I believe it is very important to educate the public at large, drawing their attention that, when you read information, you should pay attention to the sources of it, looking out for a hidden agenda, with messages that are trying to sap confidence in democratic values. For instance, when you see the Sputnik television channel saying that Romania and the EU do this, that, and the other thing, well, no, Romania is the EU, Romania is NATO, we are not an entity outside these organization. These types of messages are trying to imply, to suggest that Romania is still far outside these organizations, and these messages are aimed at undermining confidence.”
The pandemic period has once again shown that disinformation is a major problem. A veritable industry of disinformation and conspiracy theories has been pervading social networks, but also the large on-line retailers that sell books, for instance. Radio Romania's correspondent to France said that many books spreading conspiracy theories related to the origin of COVID or about alleged hidden interests behind vaccines are top sellers online. Here is Daniela Coman:
“Big Pharma Unmasked, issued this spring, has sold in a few months over 14,000 copies, one of the biggest best sellers about COVID, declared a big success by the publisher. Offered by a relative, or recommended by a retailer, the book aims to grant credibility to the claims made by some epidemiologists during the crisis, and contributes to the spread of conspiracy theories at large, as noted by an expert with Rennes University, speaking for AFP. It is no surprise that the conspiracy is working. Online retail platforms, like Amazon and the like, have promoted such books, because they knew they would find buyers, which is not a new phenomenon. They always could, the expert explained. COVID conspiracy theories looping around the Internet are an echo chamber for their fans, who seek opinions that mirror their own. This is the opinion held by all who research manipulation, disinformation, and fake news, and times of crisis are the most propitious moments for spreaders and consumers of conspiracy and plot theories.”
Disinformation is among the reasons why Romania is lagging behind in COVID vaccination, registering tens of thousands of deaths. Society in general has failed, overall, considering that many were duped and bamboozled by these theories and lies, which seemed to come out of nowhere, spreading information from obscure sources, with no scientific basis. Dr. Valeriu Gheorghita, coordinator of the vaccination campaign in the country, said that many preferred these lies to real, scientific data from experts. What is there to do? Critical thinking and digital skills are a needed instrument in order to sift through the avalanche of information that pours out of all media channels, and lacking those puts one at risk of being a victim of disinformation to a high degree. Here is Professor Alina Bargaoanu, an expert in fighting fake news:
“Right now, propaganda relies a lot on the fact that we, social media users, are the ones that spread it. Right now, propaganda is not necessarily spread by hierarchical structures, the so-called ampliganda is aimed at each and every one of us, we are all consumers and distributors of such propaganda. On social media, the main protection against disinformation is being reticent, refraining from distributing it, not to mention sharing and commenting, even on subjects we do not agree with. I would make a short detour here on the issues of some topics of disinformation, such as microchips and 5G; a lot of times these were brought into the mainstream from the margins of the Internet precisely by the people who did not agree at all with them. They started this Ha-haganda, laughing at the theory that vaccines come with microchips, which was a fringe theory, but we amplified it precisely because we found it ridiculous.”
Professor Bargaoanu's main advice, especially for those who don't spend that much time on social media, is that the best defense continues to be restraint.