Democracy, Rights & Governance
Disinformation Toolkit 2.0
Disinformation diminishes trust between people.
Democracy, rights, and governance (DRG) assistance is at the leading edge of the response to disinformation, which directly counteract CSOs’ and NGOs’ efforts to promote free and fair elections, competitive political systems, accountable government and anti-corruption, efficient service delivery, empowered civil society, and effective independent media. At the core, disinformation attacks the trust between people that undergirds the democratic systems and civic institutions that citizens rely on to protect their rights and their quality of life, as well as that of their family, friends, neighbors, and colleagues.
DRG programs ask: If people—or groups of people—don’t trust one another, how can they share a vision of purpose, direction, and mutual fate? How can they feel a sense of unity and shared purpose? How can they trust the institutions that are the result of shared purpose? Disinformation works to create filter bubbles, or alternate realities, where one person’s wrong is another’s right, where important events are not so important, and vice versa. In essence, deployed strategically over time, disinformation creates divisions within and between cultures along the lines of values and identity. The power of disinformation to divide has been made clear by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has seen powerful actors and authoritarian governments use the threat of the virus to pit groups of people against one another, bolstering their own power and weakening democratic institutions.
NGOs working to support democracy, rights, and good governance around the globe recognize the corrosive impact of disinformation on social cohesion and trust in society, tipping the scales of power away from civil society and rights defenders and toward authoritarians, their patrons, and supporters. Conversely, combatting disinformation improves the quality of the information in an ecosystem, better prepares people and institutions for strategic disinformation campaigns, prevents societal fissures from widening into broader divisions, reduces tension, and mitigates conflict in the long term.
The rest of this section profiles organizations working to combat the presence of disinformation around the globe through the lens of democracy, rights, and governance, as well as some of the methodologies and tools they use.
USAID’s New Disinformation Primer
In February 2021, USAID’s Center of Excellence on Democracy, Human Rights and Governance released a Disinformation Primer, exploring why disinformation matters in foreign aid, how it works, what social factors contribute to its growth, specific challenges, and emerging solutions across sectors of society. Learn more HERE.
IREX, a global development and education organization that works to empower youth, cultivate leaders, strengthen institutions, and expand access to good information, designed the Learn to Discern (L2D) media and information literacy methodology. L2D empowers individuals, communities, and systems (education, media, and others) to identify and use good quality information to make decisions, curb the spread of mis- and disinformation, recognize and avoid manipulative information, and participate in the digital space without undermining their own and others’ wellbeing, dignity, and humanity.
According to IREX, media literacy is a key component of counter-disinformation strategies and provides a human-centered solution that bolsters critical skills among citizens and communities struggling with manipulative content while platforms and policy-makers grapple with long-term tech-based solutions:
“While technology-centered, self-policing solutions—filtering software, artificial intelligence, modified algorithms, and content labeling—do have the ability to make changes quickly and at scale, they face significant ethical, financial, logistical, and legal constraints.”
– Kristin M. Lord, IREX CEO & Katya Vogt, Global Lead for Media and Information Literacy Initiatives in the Stanford Social Innovation Review
Initially designed in Ukraine to equip adults with skills to withstand Kremlin disinformation, L2D has been successfully adapted in 17 countries including the three Baltic states, the Balkans, Georgia, Jordan, Tunisia, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and the United States. L2D is a growing, impact-driven body of work that both meets near-term priorities (preparing citizens to cast an informed vote or navigate COVID-19 misinformation) and works with local systems on long-term solutions (integrating critical information engagement skills in secondary and higher education).
From youth-led peer-to-peer trainings in Guatemala, Tunisia, and Jordan; to social media literacy tools and play-based approaches in Ukraine, Indonesia, and Georgia; to blended (online and facilitated) virtual courses, including Very Verified; to integration into secondary and higher education in Ukraine, Jordan, and the Baltics, L2D programs expose the mechanics of manipulation and bring positive shared values into the “digital public square,” sustainably re-wiring individual and community norms. This includes reflections on individual and media biases and stereotypes (e.g., focusing on appearance of women vs. their achievements, negative portrayal of migrant populations) and championing of digital civility and empathy.
IREX’s Very Verified (VV) Course is an online/offline media literacy and critical thinking course developed in Ukraine and adapted for use in Jordan, Indonesia, Serbia, Kosovo, and North Macedonia. Evaluation shows a 31% improvement in media analysis skills and a significant improvement in ability to navigate the digital information environment. Available in English, Ukrainian, and Russian. Learn more HERE.
A recent independent randomized control trial conducted by the RAND Corporation found L2D’s media literacy messages and videos shared on social media to be effective in reducing engagement with disinformation among U.S. voters. IREX provides multiple L2D resources for free, including:
- L2D training manuals in English and Georgian
- Literata Online Lessons and Games in Bahasa for Indonesia
- Resources for youth and educators in the Baltics
- Additional resources on the IREX L2D site
National Democratic Institute (NDI)
According to NDI, a nonpartisan NGO that supports democratic institutions and practices in every region of the world, “it’s not enough just to fight byte for byte with disinformation attacks as they emerge. If that’s our strategy, we’ll never keep up. What we also need to do is build up the integrity of the underlying information space so it’s resilient to the disinformation that will inevitably break through.” NDI supports local partners in countering disinformation and other harmful forms of content while promoting information integrity in the political sphere through its INFO/tegrity framework, which it grounds in four key questions:
- Who is producing and distributing the disinformation? What are the sources?
- What is the content? What are the narratives and themes?
- How is it being disseminated? Through what channels and behaviors?
- To whom is it being targeted and, more importantly, who is consuming the disinformation and who is most vulnerable to believing or acting on it?95
Based on the responses to those questions, INFO/tegrity deploys a customized mix of the following five approaches through NDI programs:
- Election Monitoring: Working with local actors during the campaign period to promote an accurate and informative information ecosystem around elections, NDI includes disinformation experts as part of its election monitoring approach as well as direct technical assistance to nonpartisan election monitors around the globe to reduce the influence of disinformation and other threats to information integrity.
- Civic Engagement: NDI provides resources and training to civil society organizations, media, political parties, and others to protect themselves from disinformation, hate speech, and other harmful forms of content, and promote information integrity concepts.
- Tools, Training, and Methods for Partners: NDI provides local partners with tools and training to identify, analyze, expose and disempower disinformation campaigns, in addition to hosting “boot camps,” on social media tools and communications strategy. Learn more HERE.
- Tech Sector Engagement: Through the Design 4 Democracy (D4D) Coalition, and its own connections, NDI and its partners work to amplify the voices of local civil society to tech companies, escalating issues particularly around elections, developing training with practical guidance, and creating opportunities for engagement with all stakeholders.
The Design for Democracy Coalition
The Design for Democracy Coalition (D4D) is a network of organizations united by the belief that tech companies have a responsibility to confront the challenges faced by democracy in the digital age and the commitment to promoting democracy and human rights as core design principles in the tech sector. Learn more HERE.
- Building Knowledge and Trusted Networks: NDI acts as a convener of like-minded organizations that are combatting disinformation in their work around the globe, in addition to conducting polling, surveys, and research to better understand the nature of the challenge in communities around the globe.
Tweets that Chill
NDI’s series of resources on disinformation, hate speech and its relationship to gender and marginalized groups.
International Republican Institute (IRI)
Launched in 2015 by the International Republican Institute (a nonpartisan NGO), the Beacon Project works to counter malign state-sponsored interference campaigns that seek to subvert democracies in Europe by promoting data-driven analysis and policymaking. Geographically, the Beacon Project covers wider Europe with a specific focus on Central and Eastern Europe, the Western Balkans, and the Baltic states, where Russia is actively deploying disinformation campaigns to sway public opinion and destabilize democracies.
The project’s approach is to:
- Expose false, manipulative, and corrosive narratives promoted by malign actors;
- Identify social vulnerabilities among groups receptive to disinformation;
- Facilitate a coordinated response by the transatlantic community, European governments, and civil society.
Coalition Building: Beacon works with more than 500 active members from 27 countries, with backgrounds in political parties, national parliaments, the European Parliament, governments, academia, tech, civil society, nonprofits, and media. It has supported CSO partners in the production of over 120 publications from 18 countries, trained or briefed over 1,700 people, monitored elections, convened or participated in almost 250 training and networking events—reaching an audience of almost 9,500, and supported joint research and collaboration across the region.
Credible Research: The Beacon Project’s research is focused on understanding how mis- and disinformation are used to exploit and widen societal fissures. The project conducts rigorous public opinion and media monitoring research that data-driven strategic and tactical responses to malign narratives and disinformation campaigns.
Engaging Policymakers: Through the Beacon Project, IRI convenes elected officials, political party members, and policymakers throughout the focus countries to discuss how to address disinformation.
Beacon Project Community Mapping
The Beacon Project has published a comprehensive dashboard, which identifies organizations and initiatives engaged in identifying, monitoring, analyzing, and debunking dis- and misinformation as well as foreign malign influence across Europe and Eurasia. This resource is available for free online. Learn more HERE.
International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES)
IFES is a U.S.-based nonprofit organization that works with election management bodies (EMBs), civil society, public institutions, and other stakeholders across the world to build resilient democracies that deliver for all. The Foundation has been active in designing and implementing interventions to promote information integrity, working closely with EMBs to strengthen strategic and crisis communication, develop codes of conduct for online political behavior, and monitor electoral disinformation.
IFES also delivers programming and thought leadership on online political advertising, campaign finance, social media, and the differential impacts of disinformation on women and other marginalized groups, while equipping civil society actors to monitor and report on online harms. IFES works through the Design 4 Democracy Coalition (described above) to better inform tech companies’ response to the harmful impacts of disinformation on democracy. IFES authored the EMB, legal and regulatory, and gender chapters of the new Consortium for Elections and Political Process Strengthening (CEPPS) Countering Disinformation Guide, described below.
Disinformation Campaigns and Hate Speech
IFES’ Disinformation Campaigns and Hate Speech: Exploring the Relationship and Programming Interventions outlines how the latest generation of disinformation is amplifying hate speech and offers a framework for designing interventions to effectively counter these dual threats. Learn more HERE.
International Center for Non-Profit Law (ICNL)
ICNL is an NGO that works to improve the legal environment for civil society, philanthropy, and public participation around the world. ICNL has created a COVID-19 Civic Freedom Tracker to monitor government responses to the pandemic that affect civic freedoms and human rights, focusing on emergency laws. The tracker includes profiles by country that describe legislation passed which aims to curb civic freedom during the COVID-19 pandemic. The information is displayed through an interactive map which is sortable by issue, type of measure, and the date of enactment. As of early April 2021, the tracker reports 107 countries with emergency declarations, 56 countries with declarations that affect free expression, 139 countries with measures that affect free assembly, and 59 countries with measures that affect privacy. View the tracker HERE.
The Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRLab), which has operationalized the study of disinformation by exposing falsehoods and fake news, documenting human rights abuses, and building digital resilience worldwide, is one of the premier research and action partners for CSOs and NGOs looking to combat disinformation in a particular context or related to a particular theme.
Learn more HERE.
Additionally, the Council’s annual 360/Open Summit brings together experts across six continents with policymakers, journalists, civil society, and industry for four days of cutting-edge programming focused on human rights and democracy in a hyperconnected, online world. Learn more HERE.
Lastly, a recent report, Democratic Defense Against Disinformation 2.0, takes stock of how governments, multinational institutions, civil-society groups, and the private sector have responded to the disinformation challenge. Learn more HERE.
Additional DRG-Related Tools & Methodologies
The NDI, IRI, and IFES, all members of the CEPPS coalition, have collaborated to release a new comprehensive guide to countering disinformation and promoting information integrity, particularly in the context of elections and political party support, which includes a database of interventions, topical sections, and response framework. Review the guide in its interactive, online format and access the database, or download it.
IRI, NDI, and the Stanford Internet Observatory released Combating Information Manipulation: A Playbook for Elections and Beyond in September of 2021, which is intended to help leapfrog the first six months of the electoral preparation process. The playbook lays out the basics of the problem, the core elements of a response, and points to trusted resources for those looking to do a deeper dive.
In September 2020 the U.N.’s Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development released a comprehensive study Balancing Act: Countering Digital Disinformation while respecting Freedom of Expression. This study is action-oriented and includes a typology of disinformation responses, a suite of sector-specific actionable recommendations, and a 23-point framework to evaluate potential responses to disinformation.
EUvsDisinfo is a project of the European External Action Service’s East StratCom Task Force and was established in 2015 to counter Russian disinformation affecting the European Union and nearby countries. This platform uses data analytics and media monitoring across 15 languages to identify, compile, and expose disinformation campaigns and make this information available as a keyword-searchable database free to the public. Learn more HERE.