The internet has become a breeding ground for misinformation and disinformation. According to the Pew Research Center, Americans' exposure to––and belief in––misinformation differs by the specific news outlets and the general pathways they rely on. More specifically, people who rely on social media are more prone to consuming misinformation and disinformation.
Government agencies, large and small, are struggling to deal with the deluge of incorrect information being shared online—but effective strategies do exist. Official websites and social media accounts, in combination with sophisticated data archiving, official websites, and social media accounts can help government agencies with this ever-increasing challenge.
This blog post will discuss how comprehensive website and social media archiving can help improve public communications and help combat mis- and disinformation.
The Difference Between Disinformation & Misinformation
One study shows that more than 60% of Facebook users trust the misinformation they consume. Sixty percent represents an astounding public impact. Misinformation does not necessarily come from malicious intentions but can have unintended negative consequences. For example, when the COVID-19 pandemic was beginning, social media influencers posted things about the pandemic extrapolated from facts but, in context, were untrue and exacerbated a burgeoning public health issue.
Misinformation's malicious counterpart is disinformation. It involves people purposefully manipulating messaging to spread lies and achieve specific goals. Using the pandemic as an example again, various forms of information reconfiguration existed. In addition to completely fabricated information, accurate information was spun, twisted, recontextualized, and reworked––sometimes by machine learning models. People received disinformation surrounding vaccine efficacy, the nature of the virus, and rules and regulations surrounding public health leading to confusion and a heightened public health crisis.
Recently, there has also been an epidemic of disinformation in politics. The Brookings Institute recently published a report highlighting how the United States Department of State Global Engagement Center is working to proactively address foreign adversaries' disinformation attempts ahead of the Presidential elections in 2024.
Disinformation is used to manipulate entire populations' understandings of sensitive topics like politics, climate change, and emerging diseases to take control of political or economic power. False information, such as targeted conspiracy theories sell ideas to public audiences. Some purveyors use this as a tactic to make money from advertising on the side. Disinformation masterminds know how to harness the power of human curiosity to make profits regardless of the effects their campaigns have on society.
Propaganda to thwart political will, manipulate public opinion, and erode institutions is increasingly common as technology becomes more sophisticated and societies become more divided.
Curating your organization's online presence and limiting any possibility of disinformation infiltrating your communication feeds is a full-time job. While disinformation can take the form of false or misleading statements across all communication channels, it can also include manipulated images, misleading headlines, false quotations, and using old video footage or pictures as if they were current. Disinformation can appear online in forums, in discussion posts, on Twitter feeds, and in comments, which requires official accounts to constantly undergo fact-checking and monitor the comments on their official social media account feeds.
Disinformation narratives are so pervasive that the European Commission has issued a call for proposals to analyze how they are created and spread within public discourse and how they affect society. The reality is that malicious actors spreading disinformation are experts in storytelling, which psychologically affects the public at a profound level.
Unfortunately, studies show that strategic disinformation influence is more potent than truthful information. Consequently, the Center for Naval Analyses has a dedicated program focused on propaganda, disinformation, and other influence efforts from outside national security threats. They have worked on how state and non-state malign influence work within strategic allies' borders and investigate how cybersecurity weaknesses can contribute to information warfare. The threats are tactical, specific, and very real.
How Data Archiving Can Help Combat Disinformation & Misinformation
In an era where misinformation can spread like wildfire, it is imperative that local governments use social media to communicate with their citizens. Today they do this through official social media accounts and posts, which provide a channel for open dialogue between citizens and government officials. Official channels are one of the most effective ways to set the record straight concerning disinformation.
One of the best ways to combat misinformation is to improve transparency and provide easy and open access to government data. Comprehensive data archiving solutions offer the ability to set up a public portal that allows the public instant access to all historical websites and social media data.
Moderation While Retaining Original Instances
In conjunction with a clear social media policy, data archiving allows government websites to delete inappropriate comments from the live platform while retaining them in the archive in case of accusations of First Amendment rights infringements.
Some archiving solutions offer keyword alerts that notify administrators when people post flagged words. Organizations can set up specific keywords related to misinformation and disinformation to get notifications when they are published in the comments sections of social media profiles.
Another way robust data archiving solutions help combat disinformation is the ability to implement sophisticated searches across all social media accounts. Organizations can search by keyword, user, platform, etc.), making finding instances of false information across an organization or agency's list of accounts easy.
Additional Benefits of Data Archiving for Government Agencies
Data archiving can help government agencies in other ways, too.
Imagine the improved productivity levels of safely stored data off-site in the cloud. With automatic archives, there is no need for agency offices to dedicate resources to taking manual screenshots and sifting through archive information.
Overall, combatting misinformation and disinformation is an ongoing struggle. However, keeping track of your organization's data is critical to keeping the public up to date with the correct information. Digital data archives also help disprove false claims and show historical public records efficiently to dispel misinformation and disinformation.
Want to learn more? Download the guide below for a detailed discussion of modern recordkeeping within government organizations.