The infodemic, otherwise known as the information pandemic, has become a great concern within the European Union and several discussions between parliament members on how to curb this issue, along with it’s closely related cousin – propaganda, have been making headway.
However, let’s first understand the meaning of this hybrid-word.
“An infodemic refers to too much information including false or misleading information in digital and physical environments during a disease outbreak. It causes confusion and risk-taking behaviours that can harm health,” says the widely trusted World Health Organisation.
“It also leads to mistrust in health authorities and undermines the public health response,” sounds familiar?
An infodemic can intensify or lengthen outbreaks when people are unsure about what to do with their health, and the rapid increase of digitisation with hardly-regulated platforms means false information has spread at an astronomical pace.
And unfortunately, MEPs and Facebook whistleblowers have revealed that social media platforms profit from the dangerous misinformation that they circulate and therefore, they cannot be trusted to regulate their content.
“It’s easier to inspire people to anger than it is to other emotions,” Francis Haugen said in what has been described as an explosive interview on CBS’ 60 Minutes.
In this interview, Haugen, who is a former Facebook employee, alleged that the company profits from hate speech and its own research shows that content that is “hateful, divisive and polarising” generates more revenue.
Hours after her claims went live, Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp went down.
According to Haugen, Facebook knows that if they change the algorithm to a safer alternative, people will spend less time on the site, less ads will be clicked on, and the major media platform will make less money.
This is why the Parliamentary members want to take the infodemic, disinformation and hate speech into their own hands.
“We are not prepared to see propaganda and fake information take over our screens. We need to protect our citizens and stop these attacks, we need deterrents and sanctions,” said the author of the oral question regarding Disinformation and the Role of Social Platforms that was presented in front of parliament earlier this week.
This type of disinformation is not exclusive to disease related knowledge, it transpires into all aspects of life and several authoritarian regimes have used the spread of false information to undermine democracy and manipulate citizens for their own agendas.
Take the Pegasus spyware scandal – hundreds of journalists, human rights activists, elected representatives and other EU citizens were spied on due to a hacking spyware that was allegedly only intended for use against criminals and terrorists.
Or how about the recent spoof attacks against Maltese media houses and journalists, including Lovin Malta?
You know, the ones that used eerily similar article formats to push their misinformation onto the screens of viewers – including the claim that Melvin Theuma had lied under oath.
This national scandal perfectly exemplifies the extent to which propaganda pushers would go to impose their agendas.
This is why members of the European Parliament want to take control of the situation through the proposed Digital Services Act which aims to increase requirements for online platforms.
In fact, Maltese MEP Alex Agius Saliba is very involved in the development and implementation of this Act.
Meanwhile, some parliament members have insisted to enforce transparency and sanction those who do not comply – because as we all know, money is the only thing that us humans respond to.
Other MEPs have called for the creation of similar social platforms by EU based companies working within established guidelines.
However, it is unlikely that if this were to be done, people will switch from the social media tycoons that are Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp to a more regulated and user friendly sight.
Of course there were those who disagreed on the basis of free speech however a good point was made; everyone is entitled to their own opinions but not to their own facts.
This article is part of a content series called Ewropej. This is a multi-newsroom initiative part-funded by the European Parliament to bring the work of the EP closer to the citizens of Malta and keep them informed about matters that affect their daily lives. This article reflects only the author’s view. The European Parliament is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.
Do you think the EU should take matters into their own hands?