By Ike Morris and Ella Mullins
The rise of misinformation and disinformation in the media cannot be stopped unless trustworthy independent news outlets can properly flourish, a top US official has warned.
Elizabeth Allen, the US Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, met with students in UTS’s journalism programme to discuss challenges facing Australia’s media.
Speaking exclusively to Central News, during a visit to Australia and the Pacific for foreign policy talks, Under Secretary Allen said misinformation and disinformation is increasingly becoming a concern across the world, and combating it required several approaches.
“The information space [is] … a contested theatre of competition, [and] it’s a battle for whose narrative is going to win out,” she said.
“For many, many years, disinformation was thought about as a narrative problem.
“That is a very small slice of the pie of how we are dealing with this. There is no silver bullet.”
She added: “We could not ask for a better ally [in Australia], the relationship is as consequential, as friendly and as aligned as it has ever been.”
I think there is no country in the world that is immune to their information space being manipulated.
A 2023 study by Pew Research Centre showed a growing number of people in the US, 53 per cent, wanted the government to have more power to proactively combat misinformation and disinformation; a 16 per cent increase from 2018’s study.
The heightened concern comes after Australia’s rejection of the Indigenous Voice to Parliament referendum, where members of the ‘No’ campaign circulated mis- and disinformation on social media platforms like Facebook and TikTok.
Allen, who also received a briefing during her visit from UTS’s Centre for Media Transition, believed such tactics have the potential to influence the outcome of national votes and political elections around the world, and multilateral “governance structures” are needed to prevent further harm on democratic processes.
“There’s such a deluge and a gush of information out every day that there’s really no ‘putting the lid’ on that stream of information,” she told students.
“We really have to be paying attention to the environment into which that information is going and think more about the receiving end, and the people who are consuming information.
“There are ways to [create governance structures] that preserve freedom of expression very critically, so putting that on the multilateral agenda is foremost on our foreign policy agenda.”
A study on the 2016 US Presidential campaign alone saw Twitter tweets containing misinformation and disinformation were 70 per cent more likely to be retweeted in comparison to ‘truthful tweets’. Independent media platforms have been quietly growing in popularity, partly due to dissatisfaction with mainstream media.
Allen backed the need for greater transparency when it came to sharing news across digital mediums, but also the need for prominent independent media sources and writers.
“People know they have to live with disinformation these days, there’s an understanding that it’s never going to be eradicated,” she said.
“We need independent media more than ever, to be stronger more than ever, across the world, everywhere.
“I think there is no country in the world that is immune to their information space being manipulated.”
Main image by Central News.