Misinformation and Disinformation
RIWI’s web-intercept research methodologies are an essential tool for organizations that seek accurate information ecosystems assessments and effective counter-disinformation programming.
Disinformation, or the deliberate spread of false or manipulated information, is not a new challenge for democratic societies. Its amplification and ease of production, however, are emergent threats. Whether in the form of government propaganda to consolidate political power, tabloids publishing known falsehoods to increase revenue, or sub-national actors seeking to divide communities and consolidate social influence through bigotry or xenophobia, disinformation and propaganda has long served those who choose to employ it. The monetization of disinformation through social media monopolies and ad revenues as well as through the development of emergent technologies that can create false images and videos in seconds however, has significantly lowered the bar for all actors seeking to exploit our digital information space.
Over 60% of the world’s population now has access to the internet, the vast majority of which connect primarily through their mobile devices. While growing access to this rich resource is an important step towards increasing access to information and freedom of expression, it also increases the likelihood that people will be exposed to false or misleading information.
Evidence from a variety of academic studies and experimental treatments reveal that there is not one key driver of disinformation susceptibility. Age, gender, education, economic stability and a sense of belonging have all been identified as potentially contributing factors to belief in false information, as have people’s trust in democratic institutions such as media organizations and the judicial system . Inequality and other socio-economic grievances, whether justified or not, also drive internet users to seek out information and communities that offer easy solutions. In this complex and fast-moving information space, RIWI enables clients to better understand the targets of disinformation, identify the contributing factors that make them susceptible, and scale interventions to reduce these vulnerabilities.
With the increasing loss of key online research instruments such as Twitter’s API access and Meta’s dissolution of their researcher-focused CrowdTangle platform, the availability of real-time data that can accurately assess even one social media platform’s impact on a country’s information space is rapidly shrinking.
RIWI Experience and Expertise
RIWI’s web-intercept survey technology with rapid access to anonymous internet users in every country is primed to confront the disinformation challenge. Our methodology captures anonymous and randomized global human sentiment data to assess vulnerable populations, influential narratives, key online and offline sources of information consumption and individual trust in their political institutions. Coupled with our social listening services that monitors for narratives across key social and news media, RIWI’s approach to mis and disinformation assessments allows for comprehensive and privacy-respecting data collection that produce deeper insights beyond traditional surveys and platform-specific datasets. Being fully anonymous, our web-intercept approach reduces social desirability bias and self-censorship even when assessing the sensitive topics that are often exploited through disinformation campaigns such as socio-economic grievances or religious beliefs.
RIWI’s web-intercept technology is the best tool to engage internet users anywhere at scale and develop evidence-based campaigns that counter disinformation operations
Countries across Eastern Europe and Eurasia have seen increased efforts in recent years by foreign actors, especially Russia, to influence their domestic governance. As the region experiences greater democratic backsliding, the media has become a battleground for would-be autocrats and their opposition. These vulnerabilities can open doors to malign foreign actors to skew narratives and push propaganda in a country’s media, to the detriment of democracy and civil society. With the rise of social media, Internet penetration, and smartphone uptake complicating the picture, development practitioners seeking to counter this through funding in-country programs are often left with little reliable data and poor ground-level information about a country’s media landscape.
To flesh out the citizen component of media resilience, AidData partnered with survey firm RIWI and leveraged their novel Random Domain Intercept Technology to field the survey online, which mixed self-reported questions about behavior and factual questions to provide objective tests. The team fielded a digital survey in ten of the 17 E&E countries that asked 35 questions about respondents’ media literacy. Driving this research was the observation that “If governments and media are captured by foreign actors, the last line of defense are citizens and their ability to identify and reject (or not) disinformation and misinformation.
Between March 28 and April 5, 2022, the Carter Center China Focus engaged RIWI to conduct a survey of Chinese public opinion regarding Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Results demonstrate that 75% of respondents agree that supporting Russia in Ukraine is China’s national interest, and that roughly 60% of respondents support China mediating an end to the conflict. Through this survey, the Carter Center was able to demonstrate that higher education, more consumption of state media, and more consumption of social media are correlated with higher support for Russia. Theyalso examined public opinion with respect to the conspiracy theory that American biolabs were discovered by Russian forces in Ukraine. Among those who have encountered the conspiracy theory, roughly 70% of respondents believe this conspiracy theory is accurate. Somewhat counter-intuitively, higher education and greater exposure to national state media and social media are also associated with higher levels of belief in the conspiracy theory, and that women believe it less, while older people believe it more.
Other disinformation assessment and intervention work recently conducted by RIWI includes assessing the reach of Chinese state-owned media narratives in South Africa and Ethiopia, identifying influential anti-vaccine narratives and susceptibilities conspiratorial beliefs to in Canada, and gauging levels of media literacy to withstand Russian disinformation amongst citizens in 10 Eastern European countries.
Sources and Spread
- Which topics are most likely to be targeted by disinformation campaigns (e.g., elections, public health crises, environmental disasters) and perceptions of them?
- How do these topics and opinions change across time and regions?
- What is the global prevalence of existing and emerging disinformation and misinformation operations across integrated forms of social and news media (e.g., the Internet, television, Twitter)?
- Where, why, and how do disinformation and misinformation spread? What psychosocial factors predict the tendency to believe or share disinformation and misinformation?
- Which counter-narratives and interventions are effective in combating the spread of disinformation and misinformation?
Messaging, Impact Assessments and Interventions
- Test for the treatment effects of your messages or campaign materials using randomized controlled trials (RCT) including on image and video content.
- Launch wide-reaching alternative messaging or prebunking campaigns to counter disinformation narratives.
- Distribute critical literacy and other educational materials at scale to decrease the impact of information operations.
- Monitor and Evaluate the effectiveness of your interventions through controlled trials, experiments and pre-post assessments.