2
0
1
9

The focus of misinformation debates shifts south

“In complex tinderbox societies, the potential for mis- and disinformation to sow not just social discord but real violence is very clear.”

Ever since 2016, when many western newsrooms’ cozy assumptions were shattered by the Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump, conversations about the impact of mis- and disinformation have been dominated by three underlying thoughts.

First is that misinformation’s main effects are felt in western democracies, or at its most global level, as a continuation of east-west battles.

Second is that misinformation is primarily a problem affecting party politics.

Third is that the way to tackle the problem is clear: We publish evidence-based reports and leave things there.

My prediction for 2019 is that those assumptions will change.

Researchers in the U.S. and Europe have for years studied how political misinformation undermines public trust in democracy, distorts popular understanding of key issues, and perverts outcomes. Since 2016, a key debate has been what the wider media — and fact-checking organizations such as mine — can and can’t do about that.

Political misinformation is, of course, hugely significant for democracies the world over, and politics in the U.S. and Europe dominates world conversation. But squeezed in between 2018’s U.S. midterms and the 2020 presidential elections, 2019 will see landmark elections in two of Africa’s most important countries, perhaps the only ones that get any consistent attention from the outside world: Nigeria and South Africa. Coming after the way misinformation was seen to affect elections in Brazil this year, that’s one reason I think the geographic focus on the impact of misinformation will shift in 2019.

Second, in these countries of the Global South, party politics is perhaps not the most important theatre of misinformation. In the middle of 2018, reports emerged from India of mobs, allegedly inflamed by misinformation on WhatsApp to attack and kill dozens of people across the country. At around the same time, reports claimed misinformation appearing on Facebook in Myanmar helped to spur acts of genocidal violence there this year.

In complex tinderbox societies, the potential for mis- and disinformation to sow not just social discord but real violence is very clear.

Recognizing this, researchers — some working for WhatsApp and Facebook, others independently — are starting to investigate misinformation’s effects so far in the Global South, in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. And the first reports that emerge in 2019 will inevitably focus more attention on these regions and the potential of misinformation on social media to cause real-world violence.

Moreover, the potential harm is not limited to social divisions and violence. In September 2018, my organization Africa Check ran a workshop in Nigeria on health misinformation, attended by stakeholders from mainstream media to the minister of state for health to leaders of the Nigerian Media Association. The workshop heard of messages circulating on WhatsApp that go beyond the widespread anti-vaccine scares to messages urging parents whose children are suffering conjunctivitis to bathe their eyes in battery acid to “cure” the problem.

Research on this issue is being conducted now and details will emerge in 2019, including when the world’s leading fact-checking organizations meet in Cape Town in June. That’s another reason for my prediction.

Third, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the way we seek to tackle these problems in western democracies — publishing evidence-based reports and leaving things there — is not working, at least not as we imagined.

Part of the problem in countries of the Global South is that journalists and civil society lack access to reliable sources of information to check such misinformation against. So media organizations and fact-checkers are turning to partner with other organizations to tackle these problems, as Africa Check is doing with the health community in Nigeria. At the same time, worryingly, authoritarian governments in countries such as Tanzania and Egypt are seeking to close down debate as a whole, with draconian legislation aimed, they say, at tackling so-called “fake news.” Sadly, this approach is also likely to increase in 2019.

Peter Cunliffe-Jones is executive director of Africa Check.

Taylor Lorenz   Personal branding is more powerful than ever

Mike Rispoli and Craig Aaron   Government funds local news — and that’s a good thing

Marie Shanahan   Newsrooms take the comments sections back from platforms

Hearken   Pivot to people

Meredith Artley   Huge demand for…anything but politics

Jenée Desmond-Harris   It finally sinks in that some people aren’t white

Adam B. Ellick   Video forensic reporting goes mainstream — and local

Andrew Donohue   Voting rights becomes the new climate change

Zuzanna Ziomecka   News leadership gets an overdue upgrade

Nisha Chittal   The homepage makes a comeback

Eric Ulken   The year you actually start to like your CMS

Robin Kwong   Tech shouldn’t be the only field pollinating “news nerds”

Mike Caulfield   Ditch the media literacy cynicism and get to work

Elite Truong   What do we owe the next generation?

Tamar Charney   Seriously: What do you do for people?

Errin Haines   Say it with me: Racism

Annie Rudd   A more intimate aesthetic of politics — on Insta

Pia Frey   You can’t solve a crisis without treating it as a crisis

Nicholas Jackson   More transparency around newsroom decisions

Jennifer Dargan   You don’t build diversity through one-off training sessions

Callie Schweitzer   The rise of the conveners

Ben Smith   The pendulum starts to swing back

Axie Navas   The traffic hunt, CMS battle, and magazine identity crises loom

Darryl Holliday   Let’s talk about power (yours)

Ruth Palmer and Benjamin Toff   From news fatigue to news avoidance

Cory Bergman   Journalism as a technology service

Gabriel Snyder   Journalism doesn’t fit well in a funnel

Alyssa Zeisler   We expand what (and how and who) we serve

Carrie Brown-Smith   Advocating a healthy civic life is no journalistic crime

Shannon McGregor   More bogus embedded tweets in our stories

Ole Reißmann   The rise of vertical storytelling

Mandy Jenkins   Fight the urge to run away from social media

Angèle Christin   Algorithms and the reflexive turn

Jack Riley   Facebook refugees, from ad revenue to news habits

Rubina Madan Fillion   Fighting the reality of deepfakes

Logan Molyneux   Seeing social media for what it is

Joe Amditis   Give the audience a seat at the table

Thomas Hanitzsch   The rise of tribal journalism

Elizabeth Dunbar   Local reporters reflect on what’s not important

Jonas Kaiser   Catching up with “Neuland”

Rishad Patel   A design system for responsible publishing

Steve Henn   Smart speakers get smarter

Jeremy Gilbert   AI finally becomes helpful

Angilee Shah   The year news orgs say “yes” to real leaders

Cristi Hegranes   A year to invest in the security of local journalists

Steve Myers   From trying to cover it all to covering what matters

Borja Bergareche Sainz de los Terreros   Entering a more balanced era

Tyler Fisher   This is journalism’s do-or-die moment

Kainaz Amaria   We consider who’s behind the camera

Francesco Zaffarano   Towards a rethinking of journalism on social media

Alexandra Svokos   Good luck convincing us millennials to pay

Joel Konopo   Influencers become the new liberated power in Africa

Alexandra Borchardt   Newsrooms need to build trust with their journalists, not just the audience

Steve Grove   A reckoning for tech’s work with news

Peter Cunliffe-Jones   The focus of misinformation debates shifts south

Reyhan Harmanci   Selling more stories to Hollywood

Julie Posetti   The year of the fight back

Dan Shanoff   Bet on sports gambling

j. Siguru Wahutu   Think 2018 was bad? Wait until you see 2019

Joshua P. Darr   The nationalization of political news will accelerate

Masuma Ahuja   Make foreign coverage less foreign

Jean Friedman Rudovsky   Cross-newsroom collaborations strengthen communities

Hossein Derakhshan   The news is dying, but journalism will not — and should not

Jonathan Stray   More algorithmic accountability reporting, and a lot of it will be meh

Kate Myers   Journalism continues to be bad for democracy

Andrea Faye Hart   Doing less harm, not just more good

Mario García   The rise of content “pilots”

Don Day   Timewalls and other reader revenue experiments

Bill Grueskin   Toward a symphony model for local news

Kelsey Proud   Journalism becomes the escape

Sarah Stonbely   Mapping the local news ecosystem — with scale but detail

Dave Burdick   Seeing our blind spots

Heba Aly   The rise of international nonprofit news

M. Scott Havens   Time to swing for the fences

Umbreen Bhatti   The story doesn’t end for the people we quote

Rachel Glickhouse   Newsrooms will prioritize audience needs

Talia Stroud   Engaging people across lines of difference

Ernie Smith   The year we step back from the platform

Francesco Marconi   The year of iterative journalism

Robert Hernandez   Racists and sexists get replaced

Peter Bale   Venture capital runs out of patience

John Saroff   The pivot to reader revenue’s unintended consequences

Kristen Muller   Local news fails — in a good way

John Garrett   You can’t raise prices forever

John Biewen   Podcasts keep getting better

Elizabeth Jensen   Going where the Acela can’t take you

Simon Galperin   After capitalism’s fire, journalism’s secondary succession

Zainab Khan   Publishers whose products can stand up to social media giants will win

Rachel Davis Mersey   Local news goes minimalist

Jeff Chin   We detox from Chartbeat

Colleen Shalby   Representation becomes more than a talking point

Lauren Katz   Community becomes a core newsroom value

Rodney Gibbs   A bright — and young — year for audio

Betsy O'Donovan and Melody Kramer   The most beautiful sentence in 2019 is “No.”

Kawandeep Virdee   Media wants to take care of you

Johannes Klingebiel   We all grow hooves

Millie Tran   There is no magic — you’ve got this

Libby Bawcombe   Haikus of the news

Geetika Rudra   The year of actionable (local) journalism

Adam Smith   Platforms will have to help rebuild trust in news

A.J. Bauer   The coming splintering of conservative media

Stephanie Edgerly   It’s time to understand the un-audience

Mandy Velez   Putting the social back in social media

Tshepo Tshabalala   Ahead of African elections, unlock partnerships with fact-checkers

Jared Newman   AI-generated fakes launch a software arms race

Christa Scharfenberg and Vickie Baranetsky   The year of the lawsuit

Kevin D. Grant   A year to embrace journalism as public service

Monique Judge   Committing to the truth, calling out lies

Victor Pickard   We will finally confront systemic market failure

Dheerja Kaur   A focus on problems, not platforms

Juleyka Lantigua   Podcasting battles East Coast bias

Moreno Cruz Osório   Damaged credibility and a new threat in Brazil

Pablo Boczkowski   Reimagining the media for post-institutional times

Elizabeth Bramson-Boudreau   A more sincere definition of “community”

Eric Nuzum   The year of the DIY podcast network

Tushar Banerjee   Interactive ads will be the new face of display advertising

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen   A long, slow slog, with no one coming to the rescue

Ståle Grut   A new dawn for 3D tech in journalism

Seema Yasmin   We will create our own spaces

Winny de Jong   Data journalism goes undercover

Carolina Guerrero   Spanish-language audio blows up

Elva Ramirez   News — but make it cinematic

Jesse Holcomb   We’ll get better at making the case for local journalism

Chase Davis   We can acknowledge what we don’t know

Rebecca Lee Sanchez   We are all actors in the running rampant of political theater

Matt Skibinski   Quality and reliability are the new currencies for publishers

Efrat Nechushtai   Journalism wants to be your friend, not your teacher

Jonathan Gill   Publishers build a common tech platform together

Laura E. Davis   More access, but not that kind

Heather Bryant   We are responsible for how we use our power

Sarah Marshall   A return to destination journalism

Almar Latour   Reported facts, weaponized in service of action

Seth C. Lewis   The gap between journalism and research is too wide

Nikki Usher   Three ways national media will further undermine trust

LaToya Drake   Listen up: New stories, new storytellers

Nathalie Malinarich   Video — yes, video

Matt Karolian   Publishers come to terms with being Facebook’s enablers

Shalabh Upadhyay   A culture clash on India’s growing Internet

Julia Rubin   Meeting people where they are

Kjerstin Thorson   Time to get mad about information inequality (again)

Linda Solomon Wood   The year of the climate reporter

Whitney Phillips   Our information systems aren’t broken — they’re working as intended

Mariana Moura Santos   From pageviews to impact

Michael Rain   The year of the culturally relevant curator

Greg Emerson   Power to the user

Joanne McNeil   Building a digital hospice

Knight Foundation   A year of local collaboration

Rick Berke   The year of loyalty

Renan Borelli   Developing loyalty means developing your talent

Renée Kaplan   Our future could lie within our own organizations

Bill Adair   Another year fighting Trump’s falsehoods

Charo Henríquez   Pivot to journalism

Josh Schwartz   A pullback from platforms and a focus on product

Raney Aronson-Rath   We learn “digital” doesn’t have to mean “short”

Tim Carmody   Unlocking the commons

Brian Moritz   The subscription-pocalypse is about to hit

Ben Werdmuller   The platform tide is turning

Craig Newmark   The end of “loudspeakers for liars”

Mat Yurow   Content competition from the tech companies

An Xiao Mina   The death of consensus, not the death of truth

Ariel Zirulnick   Participation gets professional

Matt Waite   “I went to Node.js because I wished to live deliberately”

Frank Chimero   Leave the phone at home and put news on your wrist

Patrick Butler   Measuring impact will increase audience trust

Michael Grant   More newsrooms experiment their way to success

Sarah Alvarez   Simplify and redistribute

Adam Thomas   In Europe, foundations invest in news

Candis Callison   Learn from Indigenous journalists on covering climate change

Becca Aaronson   From bridge roles to product thinkers

Alberto Cairo   A year of uncertainty and confidence

Jim Friedlich   Meet Citizen Kane 2.0

Heather Chaplin   Agree we’re partisan — for the democratic system

Alexis Lloyd & Matt Boggie   The year product leads media

Ernst-Jan Pfauth   Readers are only getting started

Sue Robinson   Reporters go on the offensive

Zizi Papacharissi   Old interface, say hello to the new interface

Kyra Darnton   A shift to depth in video

Claire Wardle   Forget deepfakes: Misinformation is showing up in our most personal online spaces

Carl Bialik   Fatigued news consumers will pay more for less news

Soo Oh   Just showing our work isn’t enough

Frank Mungeam   Tonight at 11: News, sports, and climate change

Catalina Albeanu   Being responsible for what we don’t know

Emma Carew Grovum   The year of the loyal reader

Glyn Mottershead and Martin Chorley   When a tech company pulls the plug on your story

P. Kim Bui   The misfits become the bosses

Salem Solomon   Correcting our corrections

Cherian George   Fake news wins in Asia

Manoush Zomorodi   Tech will do for information overload what it did for mindfulness

Celeste LeCompte   Local news needs local conversation to survive

Elisabeth Goodridge   Yes, they signed up — but our job’s not over

Justin Kosslyn   Text hits a tipping point

Mike Isaac   The old exit doors for digital media companies are closing

Nico Gendron   Reaching Generation Z beyond the coasts

Andrew Ramsammy   The great re-pivot to audio

Amy Schmitz Weiss   Local news isn’t where you thought it was

Jake Shapiro   Podcasting is media’s slow food movement

Gideon Lichfield   Goodbye attention economy, we’ll miss you

Amy King   We should listen to the kids (especially on Instagram)

Simon Rogers   Data journalism becomes a global field

Cindy Royal   For journalism curriculum to change, its faculty needs disruption

Jesse Brown   Canada’s subsidy for news backfires

Sue Cross   Return of the water cooler

Rebecca Searles   From silos to Swiss Army knife teams

Stefanie Murray   Local news wakes up and starts collaborating

Matthew Pressman   The battle over objectivity intensifies