Against the backdrop of an “infodemic”, the pandemic threatens to exacerbate the gap between those who have access to digital spaces and those who do not.
A global increase in internet access means an unprecedented amount of information is now available to more people than ever before. But navigating this glut of often conflicting messages – partly reliable, partly inaccurate or manipulative – remains a challenge for many.
An international survey carried out on behalf of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation found that more than half of those polled struggled to distinguish between genuine reporting and so-called “fake news” or disinformation and disinformation.
More than half of those polled in the Edelman Trust Barometer survey for 2021 said they felt their own media literacy was insufficient, far more so than before the pandemic. According to the survey, only about a quarter of all respondents had good ‘information hygiene’ – in other words, they were interested in the news, avoided echo chambers, checked the information and did not share. no unverified information.
Faced with what the WHO calls an “infodemic”, media and information literacy (MIL) is therefore urgent. Experts believe that disinformation and misinformation has been spread and repeated millions of times on Facebook alone. Studies of other platforms have come to similar conclusions. Facebook claimed to have reported around 40 million posts as inaccurate during the month of March 2020, pointing to fabrications related to COVID-19.
“Social media companies need to do more to eliminate hateful and damaging claims about COVID-19. “- Antonio Guterres, Secretary General of the United Nations
Whoever produces disinformation and disinformation, and with what intent, the advertising-driven business model of social media companies should be seen as a big driver of the infodemic. In the relentless competition for user attention, platforms depend on highly personalized and controversial messaging to maximize consumer loyalty and retention.
At the same time, the digital divide threatens those who do not have access to digital communication tools, as they tend to be at greater risk during the pandemic. Over a billion people around the world live in countries where even middle-income households cannot afford a 1 GB data plan (the international standard for affordable internet). Other factors that hamper Internet access include lack of infrastructure, low levels of education, lack of services in local languages, and gender inequalities. Women and girls will often be particularly affected. The result of these disparities is, for example, illustrated by this figure: the number of men with access to mobile internet services in developing and emerging economies exceeds that of women by 300 million.
To counter the infodemic and bridge the digital divide, actors in international cooperation contexts, such as governments, donors and civil society organizations, should:
- Promote media and information literacy, especially in the digital sphere, so that disinformation is recognized and not unwittingly shared.
- Support initiatives that promote democratic and civil rights-based content regulation on digital platforms, for example through the creation of advisory councils made up of representatives of civil society.
- Pursue the provision of high quality journalistic coverage, especially in rural areas, promoting community media, media covering minority languages or cross-border media, while taking into account new digital opportunities.
- Encourage universal access to media and the Internet, for example by encouraging investments in digital infrastructure.
This page is part of the article “COVID-19 and the Global Media Industry. Developments and Way Forward” on #mediadev:
1 Main challenges of freedom of expression
2 Professional journalism and media sustainability
3 Media and information literacy and digital inclusion
4 Conclusion and outlook
You can also download the discussion paper in pdf format.