Detoxing information ecosystems: A proactive strategy for tackling disinformation | tackling-disinformation-learning-guide | DW | 18.04.2024
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Discussion paper

Detoxing information ecosystems: A proactive strategy for tackling disinformation

This paper presents a novel approach to the challenges associated with disinformation. It diagnoses a tendency towards stand-alone solutionism in most current media development strategies in this realm.

Disinformation is for the information ecosystem what pollution is for nature. It upsets the existing equilibrium, harms organisms and prevents the overall system from functioning to the benefit of everyone. Thus, it may seem that any activity that combats  disinformation has merit, because it helps to prevent it or even eradicate it.

This stance, however, sells short the  complexity of development cooperation interventions. Every intervention has consequences. Imagine treating a contaminated stream by pouring dishwashing liquid into it. Some may say this “cleans” the stream, cancelling out the pollution. But of course, the consequences for flora and fauna could be as dire as the pollution itself. In the same way, the unintended effects of possible solutions to a vague, complex problem such as disinformation need to be carefully considered.

Download the discussion paper below

A first step would be to regard disinformation as a “wicked” problem (compare Rittel/Webber 1973). Wicked problems are complex challenges influenced by a myriad of different factors. They do not have clear definitions or boundaries and are often interconnected with other complex problems.

In the case of disinformation, these connections include geopolitical conflicts, waning trust in democratic institutions, increasing polarization of societies, the dominance of big tech companies or the debate around climate change. These kinds of problems are also particularly prone to changing their shape according to the perspective of the observer. In the case of disinformation, state actors may focus on foreign influence operations, while journalists would include the activities of those state actors themselves in their approach to disinformation.

Wicked problems cannot be tackled with simple, linear solutions which stay at the surface level, only addressing the most obvious symptoms of the problem rather than its root causes. There are no one-size-fits-all methods and the problem is persistent. It cannot be eradicated permanently.

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