Transparency International New Zealand (TINZ) recently co-hosted an online event focusing on stories and perspectives of young people regarding the ecosystem of misinformation and how it impacts all areas from elections, democracy and civil society as well as important issues such as climate change and COVID-19 response.
The aim of this event was to create a safe space for young people to think critically about social media and misinformation online and to have open discussions around bad actors and bad platforms.
Misinformation - Chelsea Cain
Chelsea Cain, Digital Marketer for TINZ shared some takeaways from the report ‘The Edge of the Infodemic’ from the New Zealand Classification Office.
We’re living in a digital age where widespread reliance on social media and the internet means that information can be generated and spread more rapidly. While this supports the distribution of helpful information, it also easily amplifies harmful messages, leading to mistrust.
Everyone is affected by misinformation regardless of their age, gender, ethnicity or other characteristics.
The difficulty of combating misinformation
Dylan Sofa is a Māori/Samoan trauma-informed educator and public servant and currently a senior advisor at the Classification Office specialising in countering violent extremism.
The Classification Office recently researched mis and disinformation in Aotearoa. This research showed that young people are facing similar risks and challenges from misinformation as those faced by older people.
Dylan recalls an incident where a student approached him at the end of one of his lectures to seek help regarding an issue with his father who had been sharing online information which his son knew to be false. The student wanted to preserve his relationship with his Dad in face of the misinformation his father was embracing.
When combating mis and disinformation, being right and telling people the right answers, isn’t necessarily the best way to assist people who are at risk in getting to the truth. A kinder, loving response works best.
The Classification Office’s report ‘The Edge of the Infodemic’, provides anecdotes and information that may be helpful if you are faced with a similar situation. The report discusses the extent of misinformation experienced, the harmful impacts of it and possible options to deal with these issues.
Sextortion in Fiji
Grace Konrote is the Youth and Community Officer at Integrity Fiji. Youths for Integrity (YFI) is the youth network for Integrity Fiji consisting of 4,100 young people in Fiji who support integrity and anti-corruption initiatives.
Grace raised the issue of high sextortion rates reported in Fiji and across the Pacific in the Pacific Corruption Barometer. Grace discussed how social media plays a role.
Sextortion is when people are forced into engaging in sexual acts in exchange for essential services, including health care and education.
According to the ‘Global Corruption Barometer 2021’ GCB Pacific report, the sextortion rate in the Pacific is so far, one of the highest recorded in any region of the world where GCB surveys have been conducted. 38% of people surveyed in the Pacific Islands have experienced sextortion or know someone who has.
Young people are vulnerable to being extorted to provide sex in exchange for receiving government services often through social media platforms such as Messenger and Viber.
Grace’s key messages:
- When individuals say “no” to sexual activities, this should always be respected
- We all need to work together to speak up against all forms of violence
- Educate yourself on the issue, which in Fiji is difficult to do as it’s considered taboo. These types of conversations need to be normalised.
- Admit that there is an issue in our communities
- Intervene if any sexual abuse/behaviour and provide programmes similar to those Integrity Fiji have been doing
The impact or misinformation and hate in your community
For the past couple of years the Centre for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) have been at the forefront of unmasking how online platforms and search engines are driving radicalisation, online harm and misinformation in relation to a range of important topics such as sexual reproduction, climate change and Covid-19.
Jenna Galper from the CCDH explored the key drivers of online harm and misinformation, using climate change disinformation as an example.
The CCDH’s report titled ‘The Toxic Ten’ showed that just 10 people are spreading the majority of baseless, unscientific denial content on their own websites and across social media. These 10 alone are responsible for 69% of all interactions with climate denial content on Facebook.
They publish posts that distort the truth by overwhelming us with claims and questions designed in bad faith to confuse the debate, delaying us from getting to the actions we really need to save our planet.
While Facebook promised in March 2021 to label posts that feature climate change denial with links to correct information, research found that only 8% of the posts from the Toxic 10 superspreaders carry labels with the correct information, The remaining 92% were able to poison the conversation around climate change.
There is a clear scientific consensus that climate change is real and poses a substantial threat to humanity, however, these superspreaders make it seem otherwise. They deliberately flood us with content obfusticating the public will to take action, and profiting from it. These aren’t regular people like your dad or uncle sharing misinformed opinions, they are sophisticated profit driven actors.
Misinformation and hateful speech aren’t new. But what is different now is the frequency at which bad actors can spread these harms via social media platforms and big search engines that refuse to take responsibility for the role that they play in the harm that’s created.
Every important decision or issue humanity has to make and face these days is impacted by what happens online.
We are not powerless against the effects of hate and misinformation online. Young people can face down the power of Facebook or Google by understanding how this ecosystem works and then organising and advocating to disrupt them.