A pact against disinformation

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For years, supporters of former president Jair Bolsonaro, who was defeated in the election on October 30, have been fed conspiracy theories, falsifications of reality or simple beliefs.

The assault on Brazilian democracy that the world witnessed on Sunday, January 8, when a horde of far-right fanatics raided and destroyed the headquarters of the three powers in Brasilia, did not start spontaneously. The thousands of rioters who entered the heart of Brazilian democracy in order to strangle it represent the tip of a phenomenon of global expansion that threatens the stability of the planet itself.

For years, supporters of former president Jair Bolsonaro, who was defeated in the election on October 30, have been fed conspiracy theories, falsifications of reality or simple beliefs. From the allegedly miraculous effects of drugs against Covid-19 to the accusation of fraud in electronic voting machines, which has never been proven, millions of Brazilians began to live in a parallel world. In this universe of the absurd, the cult’s mind is fermented by social networks and message boards. Their followers are urged to ignore or ignore the press reports and wholeheartedly believe their leaders, who in turn provide their followers with an intoxicating cocktail of outlandish theories laced with resentment and fear that turn otherwise moderates into extremists.

In Brazil, the January 8 uprising in Brasilia was the culmination of a movement that began shortly after the October 30 elections. Encouraged by social media influencers, thousands of people left their homes and families and took to tents in front of military units in hundreds of Brazilian cities to call for a “federal intervention against poll fraud.” Not even the Brazil team’s matches at the World Cup in Qatar received any attention in these camps, as their leaders viewed the championship as a distraction from their goals. The expectation of this mob, increasingly radicalized by the networks, was that the armed forces would prevent the inauguration of Luiz Inácio Lula da Sul as president – a fantasy in which a hallucinated spirit of communism was mixed with non-existent threats to the religious faith from Brazilians. The radicals emerged from these camps, wrapped in flags and yellow-green decorations, raiding the offices of the presidency, the Supreme Court, and Congress, armed with cell phones that relayed videos to the other members of the cult.

It is possible to recognize traces of this collective hallucination almost everywhere, including the invasion of the United States Capitol two years ago. In some countries, such as Russia, it is the government itself that is promoting a massive disinformation campaign with the aim of continuing the war in Ukraine. In many other countries, political organizations with radical views are gaining ground because they also manipulate emotions and provoke revolt and outrage in the face of false or out-of-context situations. The truth is that no country, no matter how advanced and developed it may be, is immune to this virus that is eroding truth, plurality, respect for dissent and thus the very friendly coexistence between opposites, the basis of any democratic society.

In the face of such threats, it is time for the world still keeping its sanity intact to end this epidemic. Just as the United Nations has brought to the negotiating table those with the power to contain global warming, the same UN must lead the fight against disinformation through a major self-regulatory global agreement that reverses the heralded catastrophe .

The logic of such a pact is simple. Global warming is the greatest threat to the Earth’s physical health. The uninformed epidemic poses the greatest threat to mental health on the planet, posing tangible risks to the political and social stability of billions of people. The potential consequences, ranging from the erosion of democracies and freedoms to nuclear confrontation, are as catastrophic as climate change.

To begin with, the United Nations should invite to the table the two parties who have immediate powers to contain and reverse the epidemic: the major technology platforms and the representatives of professional journalism. It should be noted that, in Brazil and in the world, the poisonous cloud of fake news is spreading in the vacuum of journalism. The press was forced to downsize because of the insurmountable difficulties of creating a new economic model as revenue began to eat into the balance sheets of the so-called big techs.

Journalism is far from perfect, but as we’ve seen during the pandemic, the best antidote remains to review reliable sources, establish the truth, and verify versions circulating on social networks and message boards. Some countries, such as Australia, New Zealand and soon Canada, have passed laws that largely rectify the financial imbalance of communications resources and allow the gradual reoccupation of the so-called information deserts, vast areas where there is no trace of professional journalism and Independent.

While they represent progress, such legislation is not a viable solution for most of the planet. In dozens of countries, especially in Latin America, Africa and Asia, governments and parliaments would not like to see an enhanced press, with more plurality, diversity and investigative capacity, and so they confront them in the name of defending society. In contrast, autocracies and even immature democracies fail to understand the role of the free press and work to weaken and intimidate it, never to make it an ever stronger and more independent voice.

The table in search of an agreement would not be an alternative without mishaps or possible setbacks, as the talks on global warming-related agreements have shown. But with the support of governments and democratic societies, a grand global pact against disinformation is possible. It’s also a necessity for the business and existence of big techs, which are under constant threat from content controls and external regulation by autocracies that don’t always have the best of intentions.

Enough, then, of delaying and hiding reality, in the vain hope of a natural cure for the disinformation epidemic. The free world still has the capacity to be outraged for real and concrete reasons, such as the uprising in Brasilia. But you need to create a vaccine against misinformation before the virus infects many other capitals on the planet.

Source: La Verdad

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