Access to reliable information is a key element in ensuring stable and prosperous societies, in times of crisis such as the current COVID-19 pandemic but also outside the pandemic times. Disinformation remains a wide-spread phenomenon and needs a collective effort in being addressed, counting on involvement from the industry, international organisations, governments, civil society to citizens.
Today, the European Commission has adopted the Guidance on Strengthening the Code of Practice on Disinformation which reinforces EU’s response to these phenomena. The guidance underlines as well the importance of working with civil society organisations in addressing this challenge.
Over the past years and particularly since the start of the pandemic, the EU has been very quick in mobilizing a swift response to the global ‘infodemic’ on COVID-19 and more broadly in providing support to civil society organisations in tackling disinformation. This was of paramount importance since the misinformation and disinformation on the pandemic created confusion and undermined trust in public health authorities on the one hand and, on the other hand, could fuel tensions and violence in already fragile contexts where state capacity to respond was low.
Addressing disinformation during the COVID-19 pandemic
Several EU-funded projects through the Instrument contributing to Stability and Peace have been set-up and helped providing an answer to the wave of rising disinformation in the midst of the current pandemic.
For instance the EU-funded project ‘#CoronavirusFacts: Adressing the ‘Disinfodemic‘ on Covid-19 in conflict prone environments’ implemented by UNESCO, covers four regions - Latin America and the Caribbean, Sub-Saharan Africa, East/Horn of Africa, and West Africa- and nine specific countries- Afghanistan, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Haiti, Iraq, Kenya, Mozambique, Senegal, and Zimbabwe. It provides a resource hub with verified resources by fact-checkers on combatting Covid-19 disinformation. The website, available in English and French supports media professionals in disseminating facts-based content and empowers citizens to make facts-based decisions relating to their health. This is complemented by a series of trainings and online courses for media professionals on disinformation and fact-checking, including providing journalists reliable information on vaccines and other COVID-19 facts.
Communities living in conflict-affected areas have been affected even more by the current pandemic. Their realities need a tailored-made approach to mitigate harmful effects of the COVID-19 crisis on social cohesion, stability and ongoing conflict prevention efforts.
Two such EU-funded projects take into account these specificities:
- ‘Enabling Effective and Conflict-Sensitive Responses to COVID-19 to Protect Social Cohesion in Fragile Contexts in Africa’ covers regions in Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania and Uganda. The project, implemented by Search for Common Ground, helps bridging dividing lines by engaging with hard-to-reach sections of the population and contributes to overcoming mistrust in the health sector. It also provides an online platform that connects influencers and journalists and helped setting up a digital community for knowledge sharing.
- ‘Covid-19 Réponse Rapide Région des Grands Lacs’ project aims at reducing the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the vulnerable communities of the Great Lake Region (Burundi, Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and regions in West Uganda) through accurate, conflict-sensitive, trusted and contextualized information, community outreach and conflict prevention activities. The project, implemented by Internews, helped setting up regional media desk to identify information needs but also fake news, produce quality content for social media distribution, conflict and gender-sensitive trainings for journalists, as well as public awareness campaigns and radio shows providing accurate information on the pandemic.
Countering Disinformation in Southern and Eastern Ukraine
False or misleading information can be deliberately spread both by internal and external actors to deceive the public, spread distrust, and aggravate existing divisions within societies, especially in regions with geopolitical tensions.
Local residents in Eastern and Southern Ukraine have been targeted by disinformation campaigns, media manipulations and propaganda against European values. Lack of awareness about the types and methods of disinformation as well as lack of understanding of the EU support in the region, has left the local media as well as the local population vulnerable to manipulation.
Addressing these vulnerabilities entails engaging with the local population and strengthening their resilience to disinformation by supporting high-quality journalism, providing youth with an opportunity to suggest their own innovative solutions, facilitating effective communication between local authorities and the population in the east and south of the country and implementing activities aimed at increasing media literacy and critical thinking.
This EU-funded project through the Instrument contributing to Stability and Peace encompasses as main activities:
- Mapping the disinformation landscape in the 8 target regions in Eastern and Southern Ukraine;
- Trainings, workshops, masterclasses, and internships/information exchange seminars for 120 local media representatives
- Workshops for 170 representatives of the local authorities to improve their communication skills (including crisis communication)
- Interactive discussions and events for almost 1000 high school and university students in Southern and Eastern Ukraine to facilitate engagement and critical thinking and help counter disinformation
- Public information campaigns raising awareness on the importance of critical thinking and media literacy, counteracting disinformation and independent media.
- Publication date
- 26 May 2021