All stakeholders have roles to play: civil society, tech companies, governments, educational institutions, as well as commercial enterprises, to reduce the continuous harm done by the flood of misinformation online. This responsibility cannot be left alone to governments or tech companies.
The cooperation of all stakeholders is required to successfully combat misinformation online. People everywhere are drowning in information. Misinformation can be regarded as both cause and effect, the chicken and the egg of these phenomena: the divisive nature of politics internationally, growing distrust of democratic institutions and the threat to democracy worldwide. The rapid dissemination of information characteristic of the information age is the engine. Governments and civil society must encourage citizens to be thoughtful civic actors not easily swayed by the bait of misinformation. Civic media literacy must become a priority. Educational institutions must provide curriculum that emphasize the development of critical and analytically thinking skills in students. Tech companies running online social media platforms need to establish ground rules of online engagement or ‘user behaviour contracts’ that penalize the spread of misinformation on their platforms. Governments must not be stuck in the false dichotomy of ‘censor’ or ‘allow’: governments must intervene to encourage the flow of genuine information and prevent misinformation undermining the democratic participation of citizens in society. Governments have the right to establish agencies that review the algorithms of social media platforms and their participatory policies for online consumers.
Global tech companies must establish guidelines online inspired by global democratic and human rights declarations. The move by Facebook establishing an Oversight Board is commendable, as this Board’s purpose is “to promote free expression by making principled, independent decisions regarding content on Facebook and Instagram and by issuing recommendations on the relevant Facebook company content policy.” This Board’s independence of judgment is key to its operations and function: it is funded by an independent trust and supported by an independent company different from The Facebook Company. The members of the board are carefully selected “for the diversity of their expertise and the quality of their judgement.” The Oversight Board includes a former prime minister, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, human rights advocates, constitutional lawyers and the former editor-in-chief of a respected global newspaper.