Young are the ‘main targets of proponents of disinformation’
EU Reporter, 16 July 2022
by EU Reporter Correspondent / Photo credits: EU Reporter
Disinformation is a “threat” to young people because of youth’s “reliability” on the internet.
That is the view of Dr. Stephanie Daher, a researcher at the European Foundation for Democracy (EFD), a leading Brussels-based policy institute, where she is currently managing a project on disinformation.
She says young people have emerged as the “main targets of proponents of disinformation”.
Dr Daher’s comments come in a Q&A on the topic with this website. They coincide with a major project by the EFD on disinformation and misinformation.
She has worked as a research consultant with several European institutions and research centers on radicalisation in EU Member States as well as in MENA countries, with a particular focus on prisons.
Q: Why is disinformation a threat to young people in Europe and U.S?
Daher: Disinformation is a threat to young people in Europe and the United States since the various involved actors in diffusing disinformation and campaigns are very much aware of the youth’s reliability on the Internet to get information and their usage of various platforms and online channels. This clearly positions them as the main targets of proponents of disinformation, where the latter employ particular strategies and tactics to influence their consumption of “information”.
Q: Can you briefly outline your summary of the project, ie the workshops you have held?
Daher: “The European Foundation for Democracy, in collaboration with the U.S. Mission to the EU, has been implementing the project “Countering Disinformation and Malign Foreign Influence: Working with Young People from Europe and the United States” which entailed a series of webinars and a closed-door online workshop which was held this past week with young people from Europe and the United States.”
Q: Why should young people care about dis and misinformation? How can it affect them?
Daher: “Disinformation transcends territorial as well as language borders. Thus, it has a transnational influence affecting all categories of individuals, without any exclusion. However, given the elevated daily exposure of young people to online channels and media platforms, as their main source of information, this phenomenon greatly affects the very reliability of information they consume and its credibility. Undoubtedly, disinformation can considerably contribute to the fuelling of polarising sentiments and emotions among youth, multiplying divisions within society, and potentially pushing them to be violent.”
Q: What are the possible long term consequences of failing to do more to protect the young on this?
Daher: “Failing to adopt multi-dimensional measures to disinformation, both on the prevention and counter levels, will most probably lead to an intensification of radicalisation processes among the youth, and their engagement in violent behaviour.”
Q: Compared with, eg climate change, where does this issue rank?
Daher: “Given its versatile nature in “clutching” to any social, political, economic as well as environmental salient issue to individuals within society, disinformation is indeed a fundamental concern as well as threat. In that, disinformation on climate change is increasingly posing a great threat and constitutes an obstacle to meaningful collective climate action.”
Q: Climate change has seen youth really engaged in recent times. Does this issue merit similar action/engagement?If so, how can that be achieved? Do you need a figure like Greta Thunberg to galvanise interest/support?
Daher: “Indeed, youth are increasingly engaged in countering the phenomenon of disinformation and misinformation whether in their communities, schools, universities, work environments as well as online. During the project, we have discussed several collective initiatives focused on raising awareness and equipping youth with the necessary tools and knowledge to counter disinformation. Collective efforts and initiatives implemented across several levels have proven to be very efficient.”
Q: Are young people just too savvy these days to be taken in by fake news?
Daher: “Throughout the project, it was evident that young people are very much aware of the rapid evolution of the phenomenon of disinformation. However, the complexity and rapid advancements of technologies and tools put into practice by disinformation proponents leaves little room for manoeuvre. In the sense that, several diverse bots and artificial intelligence methods are used in diffusing fake news and disinformation across a myriad of available platforms.”
Q: Is the EU and its Member States - and social platforms - doing enough to tackle this?
Daher: “The EU as well as Member States are very much aware of the increasing threat of disinformation and the spread of conspiracy narratives both online and offline and as a result several measures were advanced across several levels. Most prominently, the EU has presented the Strengthened Code of Practice of Disinformation which was recently revised and in which salient players in the industry (big tech companies) have agreed on a voluntary basis on self-regulatory standards for the purposes of reducing false information spread online. Also, the European External Action Service (EEAS) has developed “EUvsDisinfo” project. Through data analysis and media monitoring in 15 languages, disinformation propagated by pro-Kremlin media is identified, collected and then responses through fact-checking are published."
Q: Do you agree that governments/ political leaders in the West can be as guilty of spreading fake news as anyone?
Daher: “Yes, I agree. There are various motivations behind the use of false information and one of those aims at increasing one’s power and influence as well as skewing public opinion on certain issues. In particular, some politicians, in order to gain public support and influence on political decision-making, diffuse fake news.”
The original article is available here: https://www.eureporter.co/internet-2/2022/07/16/young-are-the-main-targets-of-proponents-of-disinformation/