The challenges of digital misinformation implicate a complex system that spans social, legal, financial, political and technological actors and concerns (and others). As the reverberations of these dynamics are experienced across sectors and societies, stakeholders from across the system have mobilized. In looking across the wide range of initiatives being carried out we notice the following approaches or orientations to defining problems and solutions:
– Information focus: Initiatives within this orientation focus on the nature and status of misinformation itself as the problem to be addressed, typically through identifying and/or correcting misinformation across the spectrum of digital information platforms and outlets. Solutions involve verification and fact-checking approaches, tools, and knowledge products.
– Technology focus: Initiatives within this orientation focus on the technological dimensions of digital misinformation (such as platforms, algorithms, AI, etc.) as both drivers and solutions to the problem of digital misinformation. They tend to focus on adaptations and advances in technologies, as well as regulatory frameworks that pertain to them.
– Skills focus: Initiatives within this orientation focus on building awareness and skills of citizens, civil society, and community journalists for navigating the digital information space in safe and ethical ways (as consumers, producers, and vectors). Solutions include educational materials, trainings and workshops, information, and platforms, often with a focus on media literacy.
– Issue focus: Initiatives within this orientation focus on the impacts of misinformation but are often conceived and organized to “combat” misinformation around particular thematic concerns, topics, or specific initiatives themselves. As a result, we see initiatives designed to address misinformation about climate change, or about the Covid-19 virus, or about a specific election.
All of these approaches are important and needed. But on their own, they leave some important gaps when it comes to social cohesion:
– First, focusing on the content and channels of digital misinformation can cause us to overlook the role of diminished social cohesion as a key driver. Similarly, a focus on content and channels also directs attention to building skills for media and digital literacy, but can leave other skills, such as conflict resolution, non-violent communication, civic education, and other areas important for social cohesion, to the side.
– Second, organizing around thematic concerns creates a system of fragmented responses and disconnected approaches. The result is a compounding set of vocabularies and varying degrees of understanding of the central dynamics at hand. Focusing on the impact of misinformation on our own areas of concerns prevents us from gaining a view of the common risks that underlie all digital misinformation dynamics, and from working together to address them. It also trains attention on addressing present problems and immediate threats, rather than on understanding the cumulative (and long-term) effects of digital misinformation dynamics.
– Thirdly, at present, there is no actor or body working to facilitate cross-sector collaboration to support diverse sectors and stakeholders grappling with the dynamics discussed here. This leaves untapped the potential contributions of cross-sector learning and insights for new and more systemic and synergistic ways of thinking and acting.