IGCF 2021: Conspiracy theories are a long-term challenge, says UK politician
The session at Sharjah's International Government Communication Forum examined the ubiquity of conspiracy theories in the age of digital media
Lies travel faster than truth, but misinformation today reaches billions of people in seconds, experts said at the 10th edition of the International Government Communication Forum (IGCF).
A panel, led by Philip Hammond, British politician and member of the House of Lords; Dr Fahed R. Alshelaimi, chairman of the Middle East Centre for Strategic and Political Consulting; and Nart Bouran, CEO of International Media Investments (IMI), and moderated by Sky News Arabia presenter, Nadim Koteich, examined the ubiquity of conspiracy theories in the age of digital and social media.
The session, held on Sunday at Expo Centre Sharjah, explored conspiracy theories not only from a political standpoint, but delved deeper to analyse the realities of their impact across sectors and on the public at large.
Misinformation has multiplied in the context of the pandemic and the numerous anti-vaccination theories, Hammond said.
“This is a clear threat and undermines the work of science, truth and the government, and damages public health in a big way. The bigger challenge is the sense of disempowerment among the public that fosters conspiracy theories, which needs to be treated as both an immediate and long-term challenge,” he said.
With almost five billion users on the internet today, social media and other digital media platforms approach it as a numbers game to propel business, Bouran said. Therefore, the responsibility of controlling the spread of misinformation is a challenging one.
But the solution, Hammond said, is to connect emotionally with the people that governments are trying to persuade, while presenting well-researched facts and data.
A clear narrative and convincing arguments, presented by respected figures and influencers and backed by facts-based research, offers the most effective approach to tackle them.
The panellists highlighted that the best example of this is the UAE’s 90 per cent vaccination rate, which was achieved by transparent government communications, presented by dedicated and respected health authorities and influencers.
Dr Alshelaimi noted that conspiracy theories flourish in the face of ambiguity and lack of clear, transparent information channels from the government, adding that swift and clear media responses, and research institutions and platforms can help counter the issue.
Building transparency in government and media, and offering the right tools to disseminate information to the public are major solutions to the problem, said Alshelaimi.
“Developing partnerships with trusted entities and public influencers to spread information should be the counter-approach against conspiracy theories and be a major part of government communication efforts,” he added.
The panellists agreed that giving the population the necessary tools to think critically and analytically and helping them build a critical approach to conspiracy theories are key. These approaches are used by many countries in effectively tackling conspiracy theories.
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