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Novel study reveals efforts in the Global South to counter information disorder

April 6, 2022
A newly released 18-month scoping study reveals the people and approaches that are being used to counter the information disorder in the Global South. Funded by IDRC, the study identifies successes, challenges, and areas for further research.
An illustration depicts a woman at a ballot box who is blindfolded and bound by misinformation.
Lauren Walker/Truthout
A negative effect of information disorder is that it reduces a person’s ability to participate freely and meaningfully in democratic processes.

From teams of independent fact-checkers in Latin America, to policymakers in Africa and the Middle East, to media education specialists in Asia, organizations and movements in lower- and middle-income countries are rising to combat the problem of so-called “fake news”.  

Meeting the Challenges of Information Disorder in the Global South explores the methods being used by people to meet the challenges they face, with special attention on how the COVID-19 pandemic has aggravated the problem. This ground-breaking study brings together researchers from across the Global South in a collaborative project to scope and map efforts at countering misinformation.  

Information disorder around the world has resulted in a burgeoning but complex research landscape that includes the analysis of issues ranging from election manipulation and populist politics to questions of media trust and implications for journalism. “This is truly novel research, coming along at a really important time, when democracies are struggling with how to confront the complex challenges of how misinformation is influencing our digital public sphere,” says Caroline Ford, director of IDRC’s Democratic and Inclusive Governance team.  

The information disorder is being generated by the increasing prevalence of misinformation, disinformation and malinformation in the public sphere and in social media. These terms are defined as follows:  

  • Misinformation: false information that is shared, but with no harm intended. 

  • Disinformation: false information that is knowingly shared to mislead or cause harm. 

  • Malinformation: when information, whether factual or false, is shared to cause harm, often by moving information designed to stay private into the public sphere. 

All misinformation can be harmful, but because of the intent and how it manifests, malinformation is a particularly serious problem for the direct and intentional harmful impact it can have on a person, organization, or country. It includes actions such as online harassment, hateful speech, non-consensual sharing of intimate images, the creation of photographic, video and audio hoaxes (a.k.a. deepfakes), email leaks, or sharing personal location information (a.k.a. doxxing). 

Even though information disorder is a widespread problem in countries in the Global South, research is still dominated by theories and case studies drawn from recent experiences in the Global North. This study aims to meet some of those gaps in understanding and find areas where further research is needed. 

According to Herman Wasserman from the University of Cape Town who led the study, “Access to quality information is vital to enable citizens to participate in democratic processes. This is especially important in the Global South, where many democracies are fragile, access to digital resources are unevenly distributed and independent media are often under pressure. In these contexts, information disorder can further undermine democratic governance and civic agency. This study helps us understand how civil society organizations in the Global South can help counter information disorder and support reliable and trustworthy information.” 

The report is the outcome of a project funded by IDRC and led by Wasserman, working collaboratively with teams from Research ICT Africa (covering sub-Saharan Africa), InternetLab (covering Latin America and the Caribbean), LIRNEasia (covering Asia) and Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism (covering the Middle East and North Africa).