The internet since its arrival connects people through different unique platforms. It enables public discussions on social networks and easy access to information. Despite its benefit, the internet has its downside, such as hate speech (the manifestation incitement to violence, discrimination or prejudice of race, color, ethnicity, etc.), disinformation (false or inaccurate information deliberately shared with the intent to deceive or mislead the public), Misinformation (false or inaccurate information disseminated unknowing or with the belief that it is true) and conspiracy theories on controversial issues, etc.
The internet is an avenue where you can express yourself freely. An expression of thought, speech, and information through whatever form is a recognized right in most nation’s constitutions. Either as a constitutional or fundamental right and it is recognized under international bodies. Hence there is a strong connection between the internet and freedom of expression. The right to freedom of expression, even though it is an enabler of all rights and the core pillar of democracy is not absolute.
There are limitations or restrictions to freedom of expression, however, these restrictions must pass the three-part tests under human rights law. The restriction must be prescribed by law, necessary in a democratic society and proportionate. Under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the restriction must be provided by law and to the extent necessary to respect the reputations of others and protection of national security, public order, public health, or morals.
To address some of the concerns or the harm caused by false information on the internet, some states regulate the internet through the legal mechanism. Recently Ethiopia enacted hate speech and misinformation law without following the set standard for the restriction of freedom of expression that is the three-part tests under human rights. Most of the ill-conceived laws are responsible for civic space restrictions. The laws clamp down on free speech i.e. restrict free expression.
Though it is hard to tackle misinformation and the likes on the internet, however before thinking about banning or regulating speech online, there is a need to think about the power of counter speech. Instead of limiting or stopping speech, fight hate speech with more speech. States must find a balance between regulating hate speech and freedom of expression.
Their concern is understandable, especially with the recent widespread conspiracy theories, baseless and false stories about the coronavirus, and the popular myth on social media that the pandemic was connected to 5G. There were different perspectives, debates, and negative misconceptions with no justifiable evidence, rather than understand the problem, the number of likes, comments, a repost of the false information exaggerated, or intensify the situation. It also Increases panic and fear as everyone, even amateurs became an expert on the issue (knew the causes, transmission, and cure of the virus). Furthermore, social media platforms surely benefitted from the spread, e.g. bloggers usually want to attract traffic by getting people engaged in viral and controversial issues. Somethings the false information is politically motivated, concern groups, government, and politicians’ benefit or financially or otherwise from it so they encourage it.
There are also harmful outcomes with the spread of false lies. The consequential effect from the misinformation circulated on social media with the 5G-COVID-19 conspiracy theories led the attacks on telecommunication – fire on cell towers/ 5G infrastructure without any evidence to substantiate such claim that 5G is linked to Covid-19.
At a meeting of foreign policy and security experts in Germany, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stated that fake news was dangerous as COVID-19 because it spreads faster and easier than the virus.
In combating propaganda or misinformation, it is the duty of media, independence reporting, and government to tackle the problem by countering the false reports with fact-based news and accurate analysis to the public. There must be an Intentional effort in releasing accurate information on a frequent and consistent basis to reach a wide audience and make reference where to find accurate and useful resources.
To combat misinformation and ensure accessible accurate and reliable information, international organizations can support fact-checking projects in different regions. This will prevent spreading misinformation and falsehoods i.e. root out or rebut misinformation before it goes viral.
People tend to rely more on the new media for information than the traditional media, as such each actor has parts to play in preventing the dissemination of fabricating falsehoods, across social media. It is important to verify the accuracy or authenticity of information on social media before sharing online.
Conservative outlets, mainstream media, States actors can work together totackle and address fake news and misinformation. Establish clear standards and informed policy approaches to countering misinformation on digital spaces. Develop tools to detect and prevent escalation of falsehoods by the digital social networks. Platforms should review its guidelines and policies on harmful and abusive content.