COVID-19 certainly changed influence in 2020, and we got some inisghts from the #EUinfluencer hybrid event to explore the topic. @StollmeyerEU (Alice Stollmeyer), @paulnemitz and @liliebayer shared some really diverse opinions in this hot debate.
Having activist and defender of democracy and values @StollmeyerEU with us, I was interested to hear her thoughts. So I posed her three questions: Has the pandemic increased misinformation on the Internet, especially on Twitter? Do you think we’re experiencing an infodemic like WHO says? And what can digital influencers do about it?
Her response? “Absolutely. There has been an increased amount of misinformation and the scale is humongous.” And she backed up her view with some interesting facts. One study identified 34 fringe websites sharing false information about COVID, together receiving more than 80 million interactions. Over the same time period, the World Health Organization’s website received only 6.2 million interactions. An alarming perspective.
And even more so when you look at the impact of misinformation. @StollmeyerEU shared figures from a Tweet showing that a study found disinformation about coronavirus between December and April caused nearly 6000 hospitalisations, 60 people became completely blind and at least 800 deaths.
So why are people engaging with fake news sites? “In uncertainty, people try to make sense of the situation,” explained @StollmeyerEU. “And this is a collective process and often happening in real time on social media. So people are looking for connection and for purpose and meaning.”
So what can we do about it? “It’s a wake-up call for the EU to get even more serious about tackling disinformation, both foreign and domestic,” she said highlighting that while the EU and Member States are already doing a lot, “we should invest more resources and skills into tackling this together” and “I really hope the European Democracy Action Plan and Digital Services Act will address this”.
She also shared some tips for digital influences. “share correct information over and over again” and “amplify authoritative sources”. If you absolutely must debunk something, she said, use the sandwich technique. “Start with the correct information, then briefly touch upon whatever it is you want to debunk and then end with the correct information”. Don’t link to the original content. And don’t mention or tag the social media account that created or spread the lies.
Those tips were well-received:
With those practical tips in mind, I turned to @paulnemitz, Principal Adviser to the European Commission and our #1 Tech #EUInfluencer: “What are the tech platforms to do or what should the EU do to the tech platforms?” I asked him. And he answered by talking about the failure of self-regulation.
“Self-regulation is no regulation,” he said. “And I think this is something more and more people in Brussels actually do believe. The European Commission has a long history of trying out self-regulation. And it just never happens”.
@paulnemitz firmly believes we need to make better use of the law “as a way to deal with these tech giants”, reminding us that they are “10 times as big as the biggest European software company”. We have to invest in democracy, make democracy work.
We should be the ones who say we want to work with parliaments. We want the rules in place to have democratic legitimacy. And we want the rules to be enforceable, including against the big players if they don’t want to play ball, came the cry from @paulnemitz. Google, Facebook and so on think disruptive innovation should also include disrupting the law.
Some strong words from @paulnemitz.
Turning next to @POLITICOEurope reporter @liliebayer to get the journalist’s perspective, we learnt that she believes “the role of journalism is not to influence but to inform”.
But @paulnemitz does not agree. Our hypermoderator Liora highlights a comment from
@ber_oomen calling for “influencers to be extremely careful when speaking out” because there have been “some issues around a variety of influencers, virologists, epidemiologists, microbiologists and they have had to apologise”.
@paulnemitz suggests “the job of journalism is more than just to bring out the facts. The job of a good journalist is also to give orientation and to take an informed view and to bring arguments together and to tell people ‘I believe this opinion is the right one’ because people have a hard time”.
And while the team activated this hybrid event from home:
The debate continued online:
Participants valued how the debate continued across multiple channels:
This second panel debate of the evening opened up the discussion on the impact of misinformation and challenges of how to address this serious problem. The online conversation continued exploring the diverse views expressed in the debate. After all, there is no silver bullet.