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7 GSMA Recommendations to Reduce Misinformation, Disinformation, and Hate Speech

By Wayan Vota on May 31, 2023

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A 2022 report by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) shows that although misinformation, disinformation and hate speech (MDH) is not a new phenomenon, the widespread use of the internet and mobile technology has made it possible to access MDH more quickly and on a greater scale than ever before. Technology has also made MDH much harder to detect and verify.

While misinformation, disinformation and hate speech is a global issue, it is an especially pressing concern in humanitarian contexts where it increases the potential for harm and creates a greater risk to the safety, well-being and dignity of affected populations.

Information can influence behaviour and dynamics on the ground, as well as the types of risks and vulnerabilities that communities and humanitarian responders address. False and manipulated information can also cause reputational damage, erode trust and undermine communities’ acceptance of humanitarian organisations.

MDH is a clear example of the risks of digital inclusion and how harmful information spread online can affect lives and realities offline. Regardless of whether humanitarian organisations are engaged in digital programming, it is vital that they understand the types of information being spread through mobile technology and how this may shape dynamics between people, both online and offline.

In each of the three humanitarian contexts in the GSMA research “Digital Worlds of Displacement-affected Communities“, MDH manifested in vastly different ways, presenting unique challenges to mobile phone users and humanitarians alike. While misinformation, disinformation and hate speech are defined as distinct phenomena, they are grouped together for the purposes of this research.

  • Misinformation: false information that is spread unintentionally.
  • Disinformation: false information that is intentionally fabricated and shared with bad intent.
  • Hate speech: all forms of print, audio and visual content that is spread to incite or promote hate, aggression, and/or violence against specific groups or identity traits.

MDH in Lebanon, PNG, and South Sudan

Overall, the displaced populations and local host communities in northern Lebanon, Iowara, PNG and Bor, South Sudan perceived misinformation, disinformation and hate speech as both widespread and a major concern. In particular:

  • Northern Lebanon: Both Syrians and Lebanese were concerned about hate speech, receiving incorrect information or fake news and being targeted by scams. Sixty-two per cent of respondents reported that they had seen hate speech, and interviewees described anti-refugee sentiments towards Syrians online as widespread. Many Syrian interviewees were very reluctant to discuss these problems and were concerned about the monitoring of common social media platforms by the Syrian government.
  • Iowara, PNG: Many interviewees told researchers about their concerns over scams. There was also a concern about misinformation and disinformation, particularly the risk of it being used to target personal relationships. For example, photoshopped images of individuals implying adultery have been reported, creating conflict within communities.
  • Bor, South Sudan: People in Bor shared their concerns about false and fabricated information about the conflict and peace agreement. Stories of ethnic, political and tribal conflicts often linger in public discourse for a long time, with the details lost or altered with each telling. Most people who had access to the internet reported that they had seen false information online.

Misinformation, disinformation and hate speech can cause physical harm, mental harm, discrimination and exclusion, and can have a direct or indirect impact on the delivery of humanitarian assistance.

For instance, if displaced people in need of humanitarian aid receive intentionally false information about resources and services that could save their lives, they may be led away from aid and into danger. Research participants spoke of three types of harm that could arise from MDH: scams, violence, conflict or intercommunal tension and misuse by authorities.

7 GSMA Recommendations to Reduce MDH

Worldwide, technology providers, governments and civil society are grappling with the challenges of misinformation, disinformation and hate speech and technology. These concerns are reflected in both the digital worlds of people in humanitarian settings and pose challenges to the safety and security of affected communities.

The ways in which MDH manifests vary greatly between settings since scams and MDH are context-specific, reflecting local issues and preoccupations. In some contexts, including northern Lebanon and Iowara, MDH directly limits the ways people use their mobile phones. In all cases, it has real-world implications for community well-being.

For humanitarian organisations:

For MNOs:

  • MNOs can develop robust risk management strategies to mitigate the risk of fraud. The types of actions and level of implementation will be determined by the threat assessments of individual operators and will be specific to their services and the consumers in the markets where they operate.
  • GSMA Members can join and work with the GSMA Fraud and Security Group and the GSMA T-ISAC, the central hub of security information sharing for the telecommunications industry. Drawing on the collective knowledge of MNOs, vendors and security professionals, the T-ISAC collects and disseminates information and advice on security incidents in the mobile community in a trusted and anonymised way. The GSMA encourages information sharing to combat all types of fraud, including network fraud. MNOs can reduce the adverse effects by sharing their high-risk number data as quickly and widely as possible. This enables MNOs to build and maintain an accurate global resource of high-risk numbers.

For all stakeholders:

  • Humanitarians, MNOs and digital providers should consider creating partnerships to raise awareness of digital risks and mitigations, especially relating to scams and online harms. They could also consider supporting training on how to recognise misinformation and disinformation, identify fraud and scams and prevent other online harms. It would be useful for this training to be part of a broader package of digital literacy training.
  • Work with digital service providers and social media companies to address negative perceptions relating to use of such platforms. This could include improved policy and practice from providers themselves as well as working to enhance knowledge amongst communities about the operating practices of the platforms including, critically, privacy settings.

For governments and regulators:

  • Governments and policymakers should explore appropriate countermeasures to false online information. The EU Code of Practice on Disinformation signed by online platforms is an example of organisations collaborating to create an accountability mechanism, and opportunities to share information and best practice.
  • Governments should work with humanitarian organisations and technology companies to collect evidence on the implications of MDH within humanitarian and fragile contexts and support the development of stronger policies to prevent online harms.

A lightly edited synopsis of the new GSMA report Digital worlds of displacement-affected communities: Lessons from returning findings to participants

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Written by
Wayan Vota co-founded ICTworks. He also co-founded Technology Salon, MERL Tech, ICTforAg, ICT4Djobs, ICT4Drinks, JadedAid, Kurante, OLPC News and a few other things. Opinions expressed here are his own and do not reflect the position of his employer, any of its entities, or any ICTWorks sponsor.
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