Albert Hirschman Centre on Democracy
15 October 2019

"Populists don’t have a monopoly on emotions”: Citizens against disinformation

How can we tackle "fake news", propaganda and disinformation to protect democratic voice?

Disinformation—in the traditional media, online, and elsewhere—is a major challenge to democracy. How can disinformation be countered in the context of the proliferation of fake news? What role can citizens play in this process?

In the panel discussion organised on 30 September as a part of the Geneva Democracy Week, invited guests Ana Arana Antelo (European Commission, DG Research and Innovation) and Flavia Kleiner (Operation Libero, Switzerland) debated those questions with Anna Leander and Mohammad-Mahmoud Ould Mohamedou (Professors at the Graduate Institute and Faculty Affiliates of the Albert Hirschman Centre on Democracy). The event was moderated by Shalini Randeria, Director of the Albert Hirschman Centre on Democracy.

Panellists analysed the changing relationship between media and disinformation, from one of propaganda to one of flooding and disrupting the mediatic space. They also reflected on the place of emotions in both supporting and countering this disinformation.

Flavia Kleiner shared her experience of organising a movement of young citizens against right-wing-inspired referenda: she offered a case study from Switzerland on how to develop narratives and strategies for countering negative emotional appeals by populist groups – in particular by reengaging voters’ emotional investment in the status quo (for example, the benefits that human rights protections have brought), and then calling on populist parties to justify their changes to it. Anna Leander reminded the audience of the problematic and contested nature of terms such as “populist”, “disinformation”, and “fake news” and delineated some strategies to resist populism by using social media.

Mohammad-Mahmoud Ould Mohamedou placed the debate in its historical and global context, pointing out the nature of fake news and populism as global phenomena, as well as the important global technological and political linkages on which disinformation relies. In response, Ana Arana Antelo provided a perspective on some of the investments made by the European Union in developing technologies and political will to counter fake news.

"Populists don’t have a monopoly on emotions”: Citizens against disinformation