The 4Ps of the disinformation age



The Russian government is paying off Canada’s largest media companies to expose unsuspecting television subscribers to regime-sponsored disinformation in what amounts to a surreal 24 hour propaganda infomercial, notes documentary filmmaker Marcus Kolga, a senior fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute for Advancing Canada’s Interests Abroad.

The Kremlin’s media channels, such as RT, have one primary objective: to promote the decay of Western democracy by spreading the spores of propaganda throughout the world. We can stop that by securing the reliability of free, open and transparent media and proactively identifying and countering threats, he writes for the Toronto Star.

Nearly 80% support President Macron’s plan to introduce a law to combat false information during election campaigns. Nearly eight out of 10 people are in favor President Emmanuel Macron’s plans to introduce laws to combat ‘fake news’ during election campaigns, a study has found:

A total 79% said that they were in favor of the plans, and agreed that “there is a need to make information on social networks and internet platforms more accountable”, according to the survey, published in Le Figaro.

Russian-inspired disinformation is the topic of the dense, 200-page report titled “Putin’s Asymmetric Assault on Democracy in Russia and Europe,” issued this week by the Democratic staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, notes analyst Anne Applebaum, a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy. But some countries are fighting back, she writes for the Washington Post:

The Baltic states and the Nordic countries have instituted national programs to monitor disinformation; the French media was prepared for Russian intervention in the last election and sought to resist it. But so far, the United States has not stepped up to the challenge of this new world in any way. …..Very slowly, a part of Europe’s political leadership is beginning to focus on the threat, to allied unity as well as to democracy itself, posed by Russian influence campaigns. But the American leadership that galvanized resistance to fascism and to communism in the past is missing.

We live in an era of major national and international political change and disinformation, according to The Guardian Foundation’s Ben Hicks. With the explosion of digital content and use of devices, the need for children & young people to understand and question the news is greater than ever. With this in mind we’ve joined with the National Literacy Trust and the PSHE Association to create News Wise, a pilot news literacy program for primary school children and teachers, funded by Google, he writes:

The pilot, which will be fully launched in Autumn 2018, is focused on children in years 5 and 6 and will create an evidence-based model for teaching news literacy in primary schools. The program will enable children to access, navigate, critically analyze and participate in the news through a suite of lesson plans, online resources and school workshops. Our long term aim to embed news literacy into the national curriculum.

Ubiquitous disinformation – aka fake news – is a consequence of the 4Ps of the modern disinformation age: post-truth politics, online propaganda, polarized crowds and partisan media, argues University of Sheffield Professor Kalina Bontcheva:

  • Post-truth politics: The first societal and political challenge comes from the emergence of post-truth politics, where politicians, parties and governments tend to frame key political issues in propaganda, instead of facts. Misleading claims are continuously repeated, even when proven untrue through fact-checking by media or independent experts (e.g. the VoteLeave claim that Britain was paying the EU £350 million a week). This has a highly corrosive effect on public trust.
  • Online propaganda and fake news: State-backed (e.g. Russia Today), ideology-driven (e.g. misogynistic or Islamophobic), or for-profit clickbait websites and social media accounts are all engaged in spreading misinformation, often with the intent to deepen social division and/or influence key political outcomes such as the 2016 US presidential election.
  • Partisan media: The pressures of the 24-hour news cycle and today’s highly competitive online media landscape have resulted in reporting poorer quality and worsening opinion diversity, with misinformation, bias and factual inaccuracies routinely creeping in.
  • Polarised crowds: As more and more citizens turn to online sources as their primary source of news, the social media platforms and their advertising and content recommendation algorithms have facilitated the creation of partisan camps and polarised crowds, characterised by flame wars and biased content sharing, which in turn, reinforces their prior beliefs (typically referred to as confirmation bias).


On Tuesday 19 December 2017, she gave evidence to the British Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media, and Sports Committee (DCMS) as part of its enquiry into fake news. The full transcript is available here.

A cookbook, but for fake news

The Public Data Lab, a network of researchers, journalists and organizations, has released a field guide (above) for detecting and investigating online misinformation. It’s like a cookbook, but for fake news, the Poynter Institute writes.

“The value of the guide is that it provides practical, simple, step-by-step instructions for journalists to actually dive into these networks and help find and visualize connections and patterns,” said Claire Wardle, executive director of First Draft — a project of Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy.

“Too much of the reporting on this subject is not based on the data, and while not everyone is a computational journalist, the recipes outlined in this guide mean that most people can run some basic analysis of the online disinformation networks they are writing about.”


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