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Disinformation Toolkit: Overview

Disinformation Toolkit
Overview

Download complete Disinformation Toolkit as PDF

Terms

Bot
Software application that runs automated tasks over the internet

Counter-messaging
Message that offers an alternative to false information or false narratives; it can also seek to delegitimize false content

Denial of service
An interruption in an authorized user’s access to a computer network, typically one caused with malicious intent

Disinformation 
False or inaccurate information that is shared with the explicit intent to mislead 

Misinformation
False or inaccurate information   

Rumor
Story or report that is of doubtful truth 

Search Engine Optimization
Process of maximizing the number of visitors to a website by ensuring the site is visible at the top of results returned by a search engine

There is growing concern that international NGOs and civil society are vulnerable to online attacks and campaigns that spread false information. These attacks are designed to intentionally sow division and confusion, disparage targeted organizations and their leaders, and promote inaccurate views about the communities they support. From Muslim-based foundations in the U.S. to humanitarian assistance organizations assisting refugees in Europe, disinformation campaigns have visibly burdened the operation of NGOs and put beneficiary communities in harm’s way.

In politics, candidates and parties have already suffered consequences from large-scale disinformation attacks. There is clear evidence that false pages and ads promoting politically divisive content on Facebook, for example, affected public attitudes around the 2016 U.S. elections. Perhaps most troubling on the global stage is the use of disinformation campaigns by states themselves to disparage international organizations working in their country and to assert claims against these organizations without substantial evidence. In the Philippines, for example, President Rodrigo Duterte’s online propaganda machine has criticized international organizations with false claims, asking the organizations to leave if they express dissatisfaction. 

Disinformation is not a new phenomenon. In fact, governments, organized nonstate actors, and individuals have used campaigns throughout history to deliberately spread false information to influence public opinion or obscure the truth. The strategies deployed by the Kremlin in Eastern Europe and the Baltic states provide the most vivid examples of targeted disinformation campaigns in recent years. Russia’s active efforts to spread of rumors through false online new stories, and to use abusive trolls to manipulate the emotions of audiences online are an extension of strategies long used offline. 

The proliferation of social media, however, has made this complicated problem more urgent. Today, rumors and lies travel farther and more quickly. Social media has become a primary source of news around the world, playing a more outsized role in shaping public debate about policy issues in the United States and Western Europe. It plays perhaps a more significant role in disseminating political and community information in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, Latin America, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East, where media markets are less diverse and democratic institutions are at varying stages of consolidation. Disinformation, or false information that is intended to mislead an audience, has the potential to change public opinion, amplify an issue, and change the outcome of political events. 

In response to this growing and complex problem, InterAction has created this resource to help international organizations initiate a conversation on how disinformation might impact them. In this report, we try to address the following questions: How does online disinformation affect my work overseas? And what can I do about it? This report draws on desk research and interviews with civil society organizations and international aid organizations providing direct development and humanitarian assistance around the world. 

In 2018, government leaders, private sector companies, foundations, and activists in the United States and Western Europe started using a range of responses including regulatory remedies, technology solutions to filter online content, and public education initiatives to promote information literacy around political events in their countries. Opinions about what can or should be done to address the production and spread of misinformation, disinformation, and false information are varied and surfacing the best solutions remains a work in progress. We do know, however, that there are simple steps international advocacy organizations and humanitarian group can take to be better prepared for disinformation attacks.