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Disinformation: a new balance of power is possible

Our article in French daily newspaper, Les Echos, looks at the balance of power between those spreading disinformation and those fighting against it. Here’s a summary:

Fake news specialists, conspiracy theorists, troll farms and other botnets capable of coordinating massive attacks have a huge reach and a frightening capacity for influence. The success of disinformation is also heightened by people who comment extensively on web articles without reading them, and approve and like information that reinforces their confirmation bias.

Even when fact checkers thoroughly deconstruct false information, supported by chronology and facts, they are often faced with a thunderous: "fake news!" – a well-used technique designed to deny one's opponents any intellectual integrity in order to disqualify them and not have to respond to their arguments.

Disinformation feeds now saturate the media space with disinformants varying the content, skillfully mixing real information, deliberate approximations and absolute lies. The sheer volume of content makes it extremely difficult to refute. But what if these aggressive attacks on fact-checking journalists are a sign that the situation is starting to reverse?

Could it be that the fact-checkers’ groundwork is starting to bear fruit? Fake news champion Trump might have won his first election, but he lost the second. And on a media level, at this stage, the Russians are not outright winners.

There has been an incredible mobilisation around the world for fact checking: hundreds of dedicated media teams, plus citizen initiatives, awareness in education... this constitutes large-scale, versatile mobilisation.

We believe that it is possible to redress the balance and even win this fight in the long term. It requires a massive awareness and education effort as well as powerful technological tools to authenticate written or visual content, identify the chronology of information, and know when and how it has been altered, distorted or "enriched".

Photo credit: Gerd Altmann

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