NEWS28 August 2020

Report examines impact of disinformation on UK society

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UK – Researchers from King’s College London have called for a more “nuanced” approach to countering disinformation as a report outlines how Covid-19 has offered new evidence of its impact on society.

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The research from the King’s Centre for Strategic Communications in War Studies analysed the causes and consequences of disinformation in the UK, exploring the EU referendum campaign in 2016, the 2019 general election and the initial months of the Covid-19 outbreak.

False information about the pandemic affected people’s behaviours, according to the research, with one notable example including the vandalising of 5G phone masts after they were falsely linked with the spread of the virus.

While a crisis situation like Covid-19 is more likely to result in concrete evidence of the impact of disinformation, its “broader, long-term impact” may be “more important to liberal democracies”, according to the researchers, “but is far harder to determine”.

The report also found that during the 2019 general election campaign, the main parties, but primarily the Conservative Party, used “overt disinformation” in a bid to secure votes.

According to the report, there has been too much focus on blaming social media for the spread of false information, neglecting the “nuances” that can explain the “persistence of such beliefs in the first place”.

The researchers advocated “an event or issue-based approach to studying and countering the societal impact of disinformation”, rather than beginning with disinformation and how to reduce its spread.

The report also noted that there is a need to combine surveys and panel data with qualitative research to examine exactly what ‘trust in media’ means to the public and how people assess this as they engage with information.