The proliferation of online platforms and ease with which malign forces can manipulate information is greatly undermining democratic institutions. Political disinformation creates chaos, division, and distrust. It has resulted in parallel universes in which citizens operate with a different set of facts and live in different realities.
Disputes over conflicting opinions about how to solve society’s problems have been replaced by a divergent understanding of what the problems are in the first place.
Disinformation hurts democracy in a multitude of ways.
First, it harms electoral processes by endangering the concept of “informed choice”, as voters go to the polls with false information mixed in with conspiracies. It may also damage electoral legitimacy, by spreading lies about the electoral result and its fairness, as we see today in the United States.
Second, and perhaps more fundamental, disinformation polarizes societies and distorts public debates. Executive actions, legislation, appointments, and foreign policy are all viewed through vastly different lenses, with no clear referee of facts and evidence, making the truth subjective, legitimacy questionable and accountability impossible.
Third, disinformation also presents an effective vehicle for both domestic and foreign anti-democratic actors to peddle harmful narratives, further exacerbate pre-existing societal divisions, and push citizens toward undemocratic alternatives, such as authoritarian populist movements, autocratic strongmen, or even extremist organizations.
Fourth, disinformation may also be a national security threat, effectively undermining states’ foreign policy goals and partnerships as well as promoting hostile adversaries.
Disinformation has become a critical and pressing challenge for democracies around the world.
International IDEA and the Friends in Defence of Democracy held a webinar entitled: "Defending Democracy from Disinformation", on Thursday 6 May 2021, at 14:00 – 13:30 (CEST). This webinar explored tangible solutions and best practices to protect democracy from disinformation, protect information integrity and build societal resilience against fake news and false facts.