Disinformation is a national security threat 

    Disinformation-based perception is, unfortunately, replacing the reliable and accurate information that is supposed to guide voters in a democratic environment.

    Despite the unprecedented ease of access to information in modern times, there is a growing difficulty in obtaining accurate and reliable information. This trend has transformed the circulation of false and misleading information from a challenge into a critical threat to society. Malicious fake news, distortions, smear campaigns, and reputation assassinations damage social peace, trust, democratic functioning, and individual relationships. Therefore, it is crucial to address disinformation systematically and purposely, as it poses a significant threat to the fabric of society.

    The widespread dissemination of disinformation poses a significant threat to the public, so it should be considered a national security issue that must be tackled.

    Disinformation activities aimed at influencing public opinion are particularly prevalent in times of crisis and elections. During these times, disinformation activities aimed at influencing public opinion can reach a level of severity that makes it difficult for people to think clearly, thus influencing the decision-making process. This situation seriously threatens democracy, as efforts to set the agenda and manipulate society in a certain direction can shape perceptions through disinformation, replacing the reliable and accurate information needed to guide voters in democratic participation. In an environment characterised by information overload, where every day brings a new layer of propaganda material and fake news, it is very difficult to reach credible information. As an inevitable consequence of this situation, voters may rely on distorted perceptions created through a systematic, strategic, and continuous disinformation process rather than factual information, leading to a significant threat to democratic participation.

    Particularly in the current digital era, it is impossible to expect complete success in the fight against disinformation unless the content consumer takes on the role of a conscious actor.

    Three lies of the day

    The false news on social media platforms claiming that the Head of Religious Affairs, who has no sons, has a “son who drinks alcohol” is one of the latest examples of reckless disinformation. This type of misinformation is particularly concerning because it is often shared without regard for basic facts that could be easily verified. This suggests that those spreading the false information are confident it will capture people’s attention regardless of its accuracy. Another example of this trend involves recent claims that the youth branches of Turkey’s ruling AK Party distributed weapons. This unsubstantiated claim echoes a previous false news story that falsely presented images from a TV show set as evidence of weapons being stored. Additionally, there have been recent allegations by a convicted spy regarding Turkey’s unmanned aerial vehicle program. Despite the lack of evidence supporting these assertions, some journalists have reported them without scrutiny

    Disinformation-infused journalism

    The fact that national media organisations can be complicit in spreading disinformation highlights the need for a systematic, strategic, and ongoing effort to combat it. It is concerning that even respected international news agencies, such as Reuters, have been known to openly advertise for personnel to engage in propaganda activities and “write stories” about Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who is currently one of the most targeted world leaders by disinformation campaigns.

    Disinformation is not only a harmful act carried out through virtual environments and by anonymous accounts. Since some media employees can trample on all journalistic values for personal interests, political purposes, and even to gain more likes, we are witnessing the transformation of fake news, distortion, defamation, and slander into a medium. Since journalists, who should be in pursuit of accurate news and truth, have evolved into an apparatus of disinformation, verifying news has become a critical step that must be implemented at the consumer level. 

    During the recent earthquake, we have painfully experienced that misleading information of unknown origin can have devastating effects, especially in times of crisis. Moreover, even well-known broadcasting organisations and journalists who enjoy a certain level of public trust can directly or indirectly contribute to the spread of disinformation, further increasing the issue’s gravity. Like social media platforms, some television stations and newspapers can be the medium for smear campaigns and reputation assassinations against institutions and individuals.

    What purpose does disinformation serve?

    There is a concerning trend of systematic attacks against institutions and organisations through unfair and baseless slanders. These attacks are part of a covert operation that aims to wear down these institutions and create a perception of distrust and suspicion among the public, indirectly damaging the political establishment as well. The success of this effort can be measured by its ability to set the agenda and dictate what people talk about. The fact that Turkey has successfully organised the world’s largest and most comprehensive technology festival highlights the country’s potential for growth and innovation. However, a closer examination of what people are discussing outside of this event reveals the social damage caused by disinformation campaigns. 

    Access to accurate and reliable news is essential for an informed and empowered society. However, the pervasive threat of disinformation poses a serious national security concern that must be addressed. This step can only be achieved through a coordinated effort involving all stakeholders in the media process. Media organisations that prioritise truth and accuracy, assisted by employees who are aware of journalistic ethics and social responsibility, are essential in the fight against disinformation. Equally important are content consumers who possess media literacy skills and can discern the veracity of the information presented. To successfully combat disinformation, all these stakeholders must work together. The importance of media and information literacy cannot be overstated. At the same time, content consumers must be active and conscious in their roles as readers, viewers, and listeners. This awareness is especially important in the digital age, where disinformation is widespread. Ultimately, success in the fight against disinformation requires a joint effort from all stakeholders, from media organisations and employees to content consumers. It is only through a concerted and coordinated approach that we can hope to effectively combat the spread of disinformation and promote a more informed and trustworthy public discourse.

    This article is originally published in Turkish by Anadolu Agency.

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