Tuesday, 16 Nov 2021  |  Reading time:  12 mins  | Read online

Misinformation & Disinformation

This week's Global Local Recap focuses on how local governments can respond to misinformation and disinformation in their communities.

What is the difference between misinformation and disinformation? Disinformation is provably false information that is shared deliberately, often maliciously or with an agenda. Misinformation is also provably false information that is shared, but without the intention to deceive.

Why is misinformation important to local governments? Stopping the spread of misinformation is particularly vital to local governments. Firstly, the negative impacts of misinformation can directly affect constituents, by changing their attitudes towards healthcare, education or even the council itself in ways that could make service provision challenging. Secondly, local governments are a trusted source of information to many communities and, as such, are in a unique position to open dialogues and target misinformation, which they should use effectively.

Who inspired us this week? This week we loved South Africa’s multi-agency partnership to address disinformation during their recent local elections and an engaging toolkit to help communities talk about health misinformation by the Office of the U.S. Surgeon General.

What is the Local Government Information Unit?
We are a non-profit, non-partisan organisation for anyone with a passion for local democracy and finding local solutions to global challenges.
Click here to find out more about Global Local from LGIU

This week's featured content

Misinformation and disinformation: how can local government tackle it?

By Melissa Thorne, LGIU

The Covid-19 pandemic created a perfect storm for the spread of misinformation and disinformation. Heightened emotions, widespread reliance on rapidly changing information, social isolation and more people online for longer led to mass uncertainty and information overload during the pandemic.

This uncertainty prompted people to seek clear and comforting information, no matter how reliable it may have been. The sheer volume of information also made it difficult for people who genuinely wanted to find trustworthy information to access it.

As municipalities direct their focus towards recovery from the pandemic, councillors and officers are still dealing with the ongoing consequences of this far-reaching misinformation and disinformation online and offline. False information around Covid-19 vaccine side effects, new technologies and elections will need to be addressed by the level of government closest to communities for the foreseeable future.

Misinformation and disinformation are not new phenomena. Prominent examples date back to the Middle Ages and beyond. However, what is new is that social media has made the speed and distance that false information can spread so much greater.

How can local authorities tackle the spread of false information?

Online training: Tackling Disinformation Online and Offline

This course will look at how you can mitigate the impact of disinformation online and offline, what tools are available and their limitations, and how to create content that cuts through – making the truth as interesting as fiction. The next session will take place on 4 February 2022 at 12:30, GMT
Click here to find out more and sign up.

LGIU Global Local Highlights


Finland’s approach to tackling the infodemic – the first line of defence is the kindergarten teacher

This briefing charts the Finnish education system, outlines fundamentals, and explores how this combats Covid-19 misinformation. The Finnish approach to education and media literacy might serve as a lesson for the rest of the world on how to navigate the infodemic. 
Read our content here.

Misinformation comes home

LGIU’s Ingrid Koehler looks again at her study of local government, trust and misinformation and reflects on recent experiences of misinformation in her own life. 
Read our brand new content here.

You CAN handle the truth: How councils can build trust and recovery in an age of alternate facts

In this essay we look at the results from LGIU's survey on perceptions of misinformation, and explore: how trust is under threat, the link between trust and an effective pandemic response, how jurisdictional disputes and misinformation undermine trust and how we can shore up trust for local recovery. 
Read our content here.

Innovation & Inspiration

Curated case studies and news from around the globe


South Africa: Major partnership combats disinformation during municipal elections

The Electoral Commission of South Africa and Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) teamed up with Google, Facebook, Twitter and TikTok to manage the impact of disinformation during the municipal elections on 1 November, in an African first. South Africans could report digital offenses that they considered to be disinformation, hate speech, incitement to violence or journalist harassment on the Real 411 online platform, which was launched by MMA in 2019. The Electoral Commission notified the relevant social media platform so that they could take action as quickly as possible. The platforms appointed staff during the election period to prioritise Commission referrals.
Highway Mail Daily Maverick / William Bird & Nomshado Lubisi
Related: Election Integrity Partnership shares recommendations for local officials from 2020 election in USA Election Integrity Partnership

USA: Misinformation intelligence bulletins help to tailor pandemic responses

New York City Council has produced reports identifying Covid-19 misinformation and disinformation circulating in different communities for nearly a year. These reports highlight public social media posts receiving high engagement, targeted leaflets in languages other than English and prevalent conspiracy theories within insular groups in order to inform the city’s health and communications response. The initiative has uncovered conspiracy theories in more than 12 languages, ranging from Spanish to Urdu. The council works with community liaisons and faith leaders to address concerns, as well as creating targeted advertising and directly calling older residents.
The New York Times / Mara Gay

Related: USA urged to heed lessons from South America regarding debunked Covid-19 treatment Insider / Tom Porter

Canada: Media literacy initiatives and research receive funding

More than 50 projects seeking to address harms arising from digital disinformation have been funded by the Government of Canada. The City of Toronto was awarded $40,000 funding for a project focused on ‘Social Inclusion Through Facts During Covid-19.’ The Corporation of the County of Northumberland received funding for a project addressing and raising awareness around local cybersecurity. Meanwhile, Concordia University’s Canadian Women Leaders’ Digital Defence Initiative is investigating how online disinformation targeting Canadian women impacts national democracy and societal unity.
Government of Canada

Related: Misinformation training programme and research guide planned to reach post-secondary students across Canada The Canadian Association of Journalists

England: Trusted community champions improve access to accurate Covid-19 information

The Community Champions scheme seeks to create networks of trusted local champions to communicate accurate information around Covid-19 and vaccines. Earlier this year, 60 councils and voluntary organisations shared £23 million funding to advance the initiative, following initial success in areas including Birmingham. Designated Community Champions and councils develop place-based responses to improve communication with at-risk groups including through helplines, school and workplace engagement and training and by identifying communication barriers. Best practice will be shared locally and nationally. Further funding was awarded to initiatives aiming to improve trust and interaction in ethnically and religiously diverse communities.

Related: Young adult community champions create safe forum for questions around vaccines and lockdowns in London Borough of Merton
South West Londoner / Melissa Thorne

Policy & Resources

Research, analysis and examples of policy in practice from leading institutes and places like yours

Use: This fantastic toolkit by the Office of the U.S. Surgeon General presents how to identify and talk about health misinformation in a clear, considerate and engaging way and is aimed specifically at community members and leaders. This Centers for Disease Control and Prevention toolkit seeks to help professionals to communicate accurate information about Covid-19 vaccines with their communities and respond to information gaps and misinformation. This UK Government Communication Service toolkit sets out ways to monitor, identify and communicate a counter-narrative to disinformation.

Read: Different approaches to tackling disinformation effectively in Sweden, Canada, the UK and France are presented as case studies in this research report by the European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats. Key public communication strategies to manage the impacts of the Covid-19 infodemic and associated disinformation are set out in this OECD policy response, which is also relevant to communications beyond the pandemic.

Listen: This engrossing Tortoise podcast tells the story of how an online smear campaign involving serious false accusations changed the course of local elections in Oldham, Greater Manchester, in the UK. Our willingness to assign value to conspiracy theories and accept a particular interpretation of data without challenge is discussed in this interesting ‘Why Is This Happening?’ podcast episode.

Interested in more LGIU Global Local content?

LGIU Global Local podcast: Talking rubbish and carbon confusion

We talk about waste reduction in Melbourne and the role of local government in cutting through carbon confusion everywhere. Plus some wombling and Dirty Santa. 
Listen to the podcast here.

From Power to Service Delivery? The politics of ward boundary reform in Chicago

Following on from a 2017 blog, LGIU’s Hannah Muirhead takes a look at the intricate and highly political complexities behind the 2021 ward boundary remap in the City of Chicago and what progress, if any, has been made since the last remap to democratise the process. 
Read the blog here.

Thanks for reading!

Next week, we'll highlight innovative initiatives to improve access to library services before, during and after the pandemic. In two weeks, our final COP26 newsletter will examine the key messages from the conference for local government.

If you would like to share your story, you can fill in this simple form or drop me a line at ingrid.koehler@lgiu.org. Please forward this free newsletter to a colleague or share it on social media to help us reach even more people who value local government globally. We tweet from @GlobalLocalLGIU.

Want more content? Visit our website to access our Global Local briefings, blogs, podcast and more.

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