Exchange Matters / May 24, 2022

Combating Disinformation Through International Exchange

Media literacy and combatting disinformation are regular topics of the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP). Three Global Ties Network members reflect on IVLP projects that inspired domestic and international dialogues: the International Institute of Wisconsin presents a case study on freedom of speech, and the Georgia Council for International Visitors and the Northern Nevada International Center highlight different projects on how to prevent harassment and disinformation in the media. 

International Institute of Wisconsin 

IVLP: Edward R. Murrow Program for Journalists – Research and Investigation
NPA: Institute of International Education (IIE)

On February 1, 2022, emerging leaders from Portuguese-speaking Africa and Brazil met with Wisconsin participants to examine a case study of freedom of speech and expression for the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP). The project titled “Edward R. Murrow Program for Journalists – Research and Investigation” presented the case of when state politicians clash with activists and advocacy organizations on social media. In the judgment in One Wisconsin Now vs. Kremer, Jesse et al highlighted the fact that censorship comes in many forms. The ambiguity in the definition of censorship can lead to a slippery slope impacting journalists and the public and necessitates the protection of media freedom. 

The international visitors were joined by plaintiff Analiese Eicher, the former Executive Director of One Wisconsin Now, a liberal-leaning advocacy group, and her legal representatives from the Law Office of Pines Bach LLC: Aaron Dumas and Christa Westerberg. Westerberg also serves on the board of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, a frequent IVLP contributor. 

The U.S. speakers laid out the case of how One Wisconsin Now litigated and won after targeting three Republican state assemblymen for blocking them on Twitter. A Wisconsin federal judge added to the growing case law by declaring it unconstitutional for officials to shut out critics on social media. 

The visiting journalists drew parallels between this small state case with more nationally renowned politicians obstructing free speech on other social media platforms both in the United States and in their own countries. The visitors came away from the meeting understanding that by protecting access to the media, they were also protecting the public’s right to access those who were elected to represent us – a crucial component of democracy. 

– In-Jee Lee, International Programs Coordinator 


Georgia Council for International Visitors 

IVLP: Preventing Online Disinformation, Harassment, and Media Manipulation
NPA: Institute of International Education  

In November of 2021, the Georgia Council for International Visitors virtually hosted a group of seven people from Germany for the program, “Preventing Online Disinformation, Harassment, and Media Manipulation.” During their virtual visit, the group met with a representative from the Atlanta Press Club, Susanna Capelouto, to discuss how local government works with both new and traditional media to stop fake news, including an example of misinformation that took place in Georgia in the last year. Susanna discussed the disinformation around the infamous telephone call between President Donald Trump and Georgia’s Secretary of State, Brad Raffensperger when President Trump urged Secretary Raffensperger to alter the outcome of the presidential votes in Georgia for the 2020 presidential election.   

Disinformation impacts everyone’s lives. In an age where social media and the internet connects the world, exchanges like this matter; it allows journalists like these to have important conversations about how to stop disinformation and fake news at the source instead of unknowingly spreading misinformation. During this conversation, U.S. and German counterparts discussed how to relay to their audiences what an accurate source is and why they should trust their information over others. Disinformation is not just a problem for the journalists involved in this meeting, but the best practices discussed and shared will have lasting effects in both communities.

– Sarah Weigle, Program Coordinator 


Northern Nevada International Center 

IVLP: Countering Disinformation in the Pacific
NPA: Cultural Vistas 

In collaboration with Cultural Vistas, the Northern Nevada International Center hosted a Sub-Regional IVLP group on the topic of “Countering Disinformation in the Pacific” for a virtual panel discussion with academics at the University of Nevada, Reno. On Thursday, February 17, we had a diverse group of nine journalists from New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, and Samoa who met with Professor Caesar Andrews, Paromita Pain, Ph.D., and GI W. Yun, Ph.D. from the Reynolds School of Journalism. 

Both visitors and speakers shared ideas on how to combat disinformation and false propaganda. Within the context of disinformation, the panelists addressed the threats to consumers of information and threats to democracy. On the internal level, they discussed the danger of efforts by extremist groups to dismantle democratic institutions by attacking infrastructure such as information distribution systems, for example: denying election results. 

On the external level, visitors discussed the danger of disinformation campaigns. An example they discussed was when authoritarian countries want to wield perspectives to make their model of government appear more successful. Both participants and speakers brainstormed strategies and discussed the ethical obligation that news outlets have in order to revert mistrust in media and prevent authoritarian leaders from influencing the thoughts of their people and others across the globe. 

Female participants and speakers were interested in discussing incidents of uncivil behavior when female journalists engage with their audience online. They shared stories of how this behavior limited the authenticity of female journalists, who feel the need to change their stories and restrict their engagement with the audience. This restriction limits the discussion of women’s journalistic ideas and prevents dialogue on differing perspectives; in turn, the richness of the community is lost, and their journalism is strongly impacted. 

The group also discussed the first amendment in the context of freedom of the press, specifically, how freedom of speech is shaped by a country’s culture and rule of law. Finally, the group expressed their optimism on ways to counter disinformation. They agreed that people’s thoughts on disinformation is dependent on the quality of information presented through media and that battling disinformation can help foster and maintain democracy. 

– Nilufer Leuthold, International Programs Manager