State chooses battles carefully in combatting misinformation

.Fake news.
.Fake news. Source: Christoph Scholz/Creative Commons

Estonia's battle with misinformation is conducted by countering with its own messages, but the state doesn't rush to refute every piece of information available on social media, strategic communications advisor at the government office, Siim Kumpas, says.

Kumpas told ERR that: "Instead of reacting to separate pieces of information, we are focusing on spreading an overall message. We have specifically stepped up the fight against certain fake news items only when they have become a danger to public order or health."

"Regarding the misinformation, most of it is legal as such. Moreover, the Constitution states clearly that there should be no censorship," Kumpas noted.

"This of course doesn't mean that the freedom of speech is limitless. Incitement to hatred, violence or discrimination is forbidden by law. If someone crosses the legal limits with his or her actions, the police will intervene."

Kumpas added that one of the presumptions of a well-functioning crisis communication is being aware of the situation - an understanding of what is happening in society. This in practical terms means observing what is happening on social media.

The pandemic caused an explosion of information

Kumpas explained that after the coronavirus pandemic started, the amount of information out there, both true and otherwise, increased drastically. "This is common in crisis situations, because people's need for information grows significantly in confusing times. The more information there is, the more noise there is within - misconceptions, conspiracy theories, and occasionally deliberate manipulation of information," he said.

Kumpas added this is mostly due to a desire for simple and clear explanations, for example whether a mask will protect people from the coronavirus and how infectious the virus is.

"However, life is complicated and the answers are not all black and white. Moreover, in extraordinary situations, there are often more questions than answers," said Kumpas.

Despite the efforts of researchers, there are still no final answers to all these outstanding questions about the coronavirus, he added.

"This means that official recommendations can change. This doesn't demonstrate the weakness of science, but rather its strength. Science is continuously striving for more certain and measurable knowledge, which goes hand-in-hand with experts' readiness to self-correct at all times," Kumpas said.


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Editor: Roberta Vaino, Andrew Whyte

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