Disinformation and the efforts to counter its effects can undermine human rights

By Miroslava Sawiris – Disinformation is a phenomenon often thought of in relation to electoral interference, subversion of democratic processes or foreign state influence operations. While all of these examples receive deserved attention, the spread of disinformation also negatively impacts another hard-won pillar of the post-World War II era, that of human rights.

When the concept of universal humanity does not apply

It is no coincidence that with the rapid spread of disinformation as a tool of information warfare, both the concept of human rights itself, as well as its application, have come increasingly under attack.

This is because ‘disinformation’ – deliberate and systematic spread of lies that are aimed at confusing the recipient – undermines the very foundations of the idea that objective reality exists, a necessary condition upon which the notion of universal humanity is founded.

Such undermining opens up the possibility to claim, for example, that universal human rights do not exist, and are nothing but a form of ‘aggressive colonialism’ attempting to ‘impose Western values’ on different cultures, precisely the argument chief Kremlin ideologists, such as Vladislav Surkov, have developed. Dismissing human rights as a Western concept is very convenient when needing to suppress political opposition, as in the case of Alexey Navalny, who was recently sent to a Russian penal colony for violating a 2014 suspended sentence for embezzlement as he missed check-ins with Russia’s prison service due to his near-fatal poisoning.

Disinformation meets hate speech

Another way in which disinformation impacts human rights is its deployment in propaganda hate campaigns. These form a part of the 10 stages of genocide, which starts with portraying the target group as the ‘other’, demonizes it through de-humanizing labels and leads to persecution and even extermination.

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While our modern history is filled with notorious examples such as the Holocaust or the genocide in Rwanda, Facebook-fueled hate campaign against Rohingya Muslims based on lies disseminated by the Myanmar military triggered ethnic cleansing and ‘the largest forced human migration in recent history’ as recently as 2016. more>

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