New media and the information revolution have not only empowered access to information but also fuelled the spread of disinformation. Such is the scale of the problem that the World Economic Forum has defined misinformation as one of the world’s most urgent problems. Corrupt, neo-authoritarian rulers have become skilled at using disinformation to confuse their opposition, break down trust and fracture civil society.
Increasingly, disinformation is used as a weapon by closed societies to attack more open ones. Inside democracies whole segments of society are pulled into alternative realities which are manipulated by violent extremists and dominated by conspiracy theories. Some commentators have even speculated that we are entering a “post-fact” age where political candidates reinvent reality on a whim.
This poses a serious danger to deliberative democracy and good governance: if we cannot agree on the facts, debate and decision-making break down.