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The disinformation era: a new threat in the abscence of rules

The last century’s technological developments allowed the diffusion of news and information to reach a speed that was unthinkable before. Taking into account the fact that at the start of the twentieth century the only way to stay updated was to read the newspaper, the invention of radio and television marked an historic turning point. During the whole twentieth century the way to stay informed had been tied to those two devices, apart from the more traditional daily newspaper. A new radical turning point has arrived with the diffusion of smartphones and social networks. The first ones allowed people to constantly have a device at their disposal through which they could not only get updates about the situation of their friends and acquaintances, as already allowed by old phones, but also about the rest of the world. Instead, social media promoted the possibility to share ideas and points of view in a broader sense, allowing people to immediately reach all their contacts without necessarily speaking to all of them. Obviously, both those “news” wouldn’t have been possible without the invention of the internet.

The Internet undoubtedly marked the passage from an era in which information sources were limited, if not insufficient, to an era in which they became overabundant. However, this excess of information, due to the lack of a diffusion channel, has been taken advantage of below its potential for about a decade. In order to try understanding this passage, suffice it to think that, before smartphones, searching something on the internet required having a computer and an internet connection at your disposal. The turning point actually derives from the fact that through smartphones it is not only possible to search for anything anywhere with an internet coverage, but it is also possible to instantly share the result of your search with your contacts. That being said, the good applications of this technological development allow constant progress thanks to the rapid diffusion of discoveries and innovations. However, the other side of the coin concerns the wrong use of technology. In parallel with the freedom of diffusing useful or “harmless” contents about our daily life with a broad audience, the ability to share harmful ones has been given as well. The term “harmful” here indicates that kind of content which cannot be regarded as true, since it’s not based on empirical or scientific basis, and that often aims at diffusing hate messages or at manipulating individuals, with the goal of promoting violent behaviours (both physical and verbal ones). Therefore this category does not include opinions about events that actually occurred and that are susceptible to different interpretations.

The potential of contents that are harmful is at least the same as those that are not. Two obvious and dramatic examples of how much the diffusion of fake news can be damaging, occurred a little over a year apart. The first one concerns the assault on the Capitol from protestors who believed that the American elections had been manipulated, at the beginning of 2021. The second one refers to the invasion of Ukraine from Russia in February 202. This case will be discussed for many years since the reasons of the invasion are currently not clear, but Putin’s declarations about the aggression action claimed, first of all, that there was no invasion and that Ukraine had to be freed from nazis who operated a genocide to the detriment of the Russian-speaking population. This reconstruction is absolutely non plausible, taking into account the fact that the last Ukrainian political election saw a preference of about 2% for the main neo fascist party, without even considering the fact that this alleged genocide has never been reported to the OSCE Mission in Ukraine (which includes Russia). Having the possibility to check information that can be spread through its channel, forbidding the access to those who do not align, the Russian government can manipulate truth, with an efficacy that is superior to the one of the traditional propaganda. A third example of the consequences of the harmful communication can be identified with the potential genocide to the detriment of the Rohingya population in Myanmar, where the UN Mission that had to carry out investigations reported that the Burmese government tried to incite the population against muslims and ethnic minorities.

The exemples mentioned above are just a few of the most extreme situations of a malicious use of revolutionary devices. In the special report of the UN Development Programme the third chapter is about threats to the safety of individuals deriving from digital technology. Taking into account the fact that those devices have been introduced for less than a decade and several chickens already came home, it is appropriate to implement a regulamentation as soon as possible in order to avoid simple propaganda to reach extreme levels, generating a distortion of reality which may cause new tragedies. The difficulties mainly concern the danger of censorship, marking excessive limits to people's freedom of speech. A balance between those two needs should be reached both nationally and internationally.

Translated by Immacolata Balestrieri


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  • L'Autore

    Alessandro Micalef

    Laureato in Giurisprudenza all'Università degli Studi di Milano.

    Ha una propensione per lo studio delle materie umanistiche sin dagli anni del liceo, soprattutto quelle storiche.

    Durante i suoi studi universitari sviluppa un interesse per il Diritto Internazionale ed Europeo, più in particolare per i Diritti dell’Uomo in entrambi i contesti.

    Oggetto della sua tesi di laurea è stato il caso che coinvolge Gambia e Myanmar davanti alla Corte Internazionale di Giustizia, in cui il Myanmar viene accusato di genocidio ai danni della minoranza etnica Rohingya.

    All’interno di Mondo Internazionale è autore per l’area tematica di Organizzazioni Internazionali.

    Law Graduate from Università degli Studi di Milano.

    He has a propensity for humanistic subjects since high school, especially for historical ones.

    During his academic studies, he develops an interest for International Law and European Law, in particular Human Rights in both contexts.

    His final dissertation was related to the case concerning The Gambia and Myanmar in front of the International Court of Justice, where Myanmar is accused of genocide perpetrated against Rohingya ethnic minority.

    Within Mondo Internazionale he is author in the context of International Organizations.

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UN UNDP Fake News USA Russia Myanmar

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