The tool to fight disinformation that we wish we had a decade ago.
Back in 2006, I (Ellie) was working for UnidosUS (when it was National Council of La Raza) and if you know anything about UnidosUS, you know they do a lot of immigration advocacy. It was the height of the immigration debate, and it was not uncommon for us to receive hate email and voicemail after one of our spokespeople debated immigration policy reforms on a cable TV program. Our spokespeople would often go up against leaders of organizations now labeled by the Southern Poverty Law Center as hate groups, so it’s not surprising that they funneled hate our way. What I didn’t realize then was that these organizations were deploying a deceptive tactic used by those who push disinformation and harmful narratives about marginalized communities like immigrants. They would offer up fake “experts” who falsely claimed they represented another equally valid point of view, claiming it was shared by many in an attempt to encourage the media to give them air time, when they were actually just touting racist, white nationalist talking points. And in giving them air time, the media created a false equivalence for their racist points of view.
Years later, in 2015, I (Liv) was working for Media Matters for America, a progressive, nonprofit media watchdog dedicated to curbing disinformation in the news media. At the time, a previously-unknown (and later disgraced) anti-choice group, The Center for Medical Progress released a series of unlawfully recorded and deceptively edited videos in an attempt to smear Planned Parenthood. The unlawfully obtained recordings were used to falsely accuse Planned Parenthood of illegal activity, a baseless claim that was then amplified by anti-choice activists to generate rhetorical, legislative and even physical attacks on reproductive health care. While dozens of investigations cleared Planned Parenthood of any wrongdoing, the smear campaign was followed by a string of violent, and in some cases, deadly attacks against Planned Parenthood staff and buildings. While there is no definitive proof that the instances of violence were directly linked to the videos, many media figures pointed out how the violent rhetoric employed by anti-choice activists risked emboldening violent actors. During this time, Media Matters worked tirelessly and in partnership with many other civil and reproductive rights advocates to debunk the disinformation. The anti-choice group’s founder was later indicted on a felony charge of tampering with a government record as well as another misdemeanor charge for the actions he took to manufacture smear videos of Planned Parenthood officials. While Planned Parenthood was eventually cleared, the disinformation amplified by conservative media outlets and parroted by politicians created a fervor that had significant ramifications.
These experiences brought the impacts of disinformation into focus for us specifically, and many of our colleagues in the comms world have also dealt directly with the threats of disinformation in their work. That’s why Spitfire created Just Truth: A communicators’ guide to combating disinformation in a hyper-connected world.This tool addresses concepts like fake “experts” and media manipulation with deceptively edited videos or images, among many others. Just Truth brings together existing research on disinformation and the harmful narrative frameworks that prop it up with communication strategies to combat it.
We’ve seen coordinated disinformation campaigns manipulate social media to attempt to suppress Black voter participation in numerous election cycles. Disinformation running rampant on social media disrupts and endangers our public health and economic responses to the coronavirus pandemic, so much so the World Health Organization has coined it an “info-demic”.
On top of this, decades of disinformation have slowed the global response to climate change and discredited the legitimate science explaining the changes in our climate.
Whether it’s aimed to preserve corporate interests, hoard political power or maintain white supremacist and patriarchal systems, we can’t ignore the fact that the current disinformation landscape is rooted in and actively furthers harmful narratives that have existed for decades (or longer). These narratives do real world harm to marginalized communities. Left unchecked, disinformation and the problematic underlying narratives that support it will continue to undermine our progress. Just Truth gives nonprofit communicators the tools to recognize the role that disinformation plays in the larger communication ecosystem and strategies to combat it.
- The basic definitions of mis- and disinformation
- The role of narratives and framing in the disinformation and information landscape
- The techniques and rhetorical strategies deployed to manipulate us into spreading disinfo and their harmful ideologies
- Why disinfo is so hard to debunk and the psychological principles that make it sticky in our memories
- The role that we play and the role both social media and news media in the amplification and spread of disinfo
- Communication strategies, including messaging, we can deploy to prevent its impact, and
- Resources for more learning
We’d like to give a special thanks to all the civil rights partners and disinfo researchers who peer-reviewed this project and gave us helpful feedback. Your ideas and contributions improved the final product and we are so grateful for your time and knowledge. We are protecting their identities for their privacy.
Spitfire believes that fighting disinformation and the harmful narratives that prop it up is a skill that organizations working on issues as far ranging as democracy, civil rights, immigration, racial justice, gender justice, poverty alleviation, health and more need to have as a core competency. The more we spread smart strategies for confronting disinformation among civil society organizations, the more we will ultimately make disinformation a losing strategy. Spitfire will be offering Just Truth trainings in 2022 for interested organizations. Don’t hesitate to reach out at info@JustTruthGuide.org for more information.
This entry was posted on Thursday, December 9, 2021 at 07:49 am and is filed under Combating disinformation, Crisis communication, Digital strategy, Frame, narrative and message development and Opposition containment. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.