Equipping Civil Society Organisations with the Tools to Respond to Online Disinformation

Equipping Civil Society Organisations with the Tools to Respond to Online Disinformation

Concerns on the spread of mis/disinformation have exacerbated during the emergence of the COVID-19 crisis. UN Secretary General António Guterres has urged that all measures adopted by governments across the world to address the crisis must “protect human rights and the rule of law”. On this, the International Day of Democracy 2021, the question of how to respond to mis/disinformation, whilst protecting the freedom of speech and expression and preventing censorship and surveillance online, remains an important one. 

Within this context of strengthening democratic resilience in the face of crisis, several civil society organisations have responded to the UN’s call to action, to counteract the different ways the COVID-19 crisis may impair democracy and increase authoritarianism. This includes fighting misinformation, disinformation and hate speech, and developing digital safety. 

Hashtag Generation’s trilingual toolkit on Counterspeech in Sri Lanka launched recently is an important resource that can be used to address and counter dis/misinformation. The toolkit, which was compiled by researcher Sachini Perera, offers definitions for hate speech, introduces types of counterspeech, shares some good practices and strategies for creating counter-narratives, and briefly discusses the ecosystem of tactics in addressing hate speech including by producing and disseminating counterspeech. Counterspeech is primarily defined in the toolkit as “any direct response to hateful or harmful speech which seeks to undermine it” and two main types of counterspeech are further recognised: “organized counter-messaging campaigns and spontaneous, organic responses”. 

The toolkit looks at practices and strategies in the planning, producing, publishing and post-publishing of counter speech content.

The toolkit also considers other strategies to address online hate speech. These include:

  • The use of reporting and redress mechanisms on social media platforms to flag harmful speech that violate human rights and platform community guidelines. 
  • The documentation of the prevalence and proliferation of online hate speech in Sri Lanka.
  • Prioritization of mental health support for victims and survivors of hate speech and dangerous speech.
  • Capacity strengthening and awareness raising on recognizing hate speech, understanding the consequences of hate speech, staying safe on the internet, etc. 

When civil society organisations respond to the UN’s call to action to counter dis/misinformation it is important to engage in long term public awareness campaigns which are supported by the state as well. 

Combatting mis/disinformation supports the strengthening of democratic institutions, the rule of law and respect for human rights within a society where the ideal of democracy can realistically be put into effect for the benefit of everyone. 

Harindrini Corea – Attorney at Law ( Hashtag Generation )

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