Building peace in the minds of men and women

Balancing Act: Countering Digital Disinformation while respecting Freedom of Expression

[NEW] Highlight summaries of this report:

The Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development, co-founded by UNESCO and ITU, has launched a comprehensive new study on one of the world's most difficult challenges: ‘Balancing Act: Countering Digital Disinformation while respecting Freedom of Expression’. The study is unique in its global scale and comprehensiveness, but it is also highly action-oriented, with a suite of sector-specific actionable recommendations and a 23-point framework to test disinformation responses. 

Targeted analyses and recommendations address the life cycle of online disinformation: from production to transmission, reception and reproduction. Readers will find chapter packages that are of special interest to:

  • Legislators and policy makers (counter disinformation campaigns, electoral-specific responses, the Freedom of Expression Assessment Framework) [Ch5, Ch8, Executive Summary]
  • Internet companies, producers and distributors (content curation, technical and algorithmic, advertisement policy, demonitisation responses)  [Ch6, Executive Summary]
  • Journalists, investigative researchers and fact checkers [Ch4, Ch3, Ch2, Executive Summary]
  • Universities and applied and empirical researchers [Ch3Executive Summary]
  • Target audiences (educational, ethical and normative, empowerment and credibility labeling responses) [Ch7, Executive Summary]

The findings are organised into a typology of 11 different categories of responses to disinformation – ranging from identification and investigatory responses, through to policy and legislative measures, technological steps, and educational approaches. For each category of response, the reader will find a description of work being done around the world, by which actors, how it is funded and who or what is targeted. The report further analyses the underlying assumptions and theories of change behind these responses, while weighing up the challenges and opportunities. Each category of response is also assessed in terms of its intersections with the universal human right of freedom of expression, with a particular focus on press freedom and access to information. Finally, case studies of responses to COVID-19 disinformation are presented within each category. 

At the heart of this knowledge product is the need to balance responses to disinformation with respect for freedom of expression. The research shows us that this can be done.

UNESCO and Dr. Hessa Al Jaber of Qatar co-chaired the Working Group of the Broadband Commission that commissioned this research. The research is published in the context of the Commission’s 10th Anniversary. 

This research of the Broadband Commission study is edited by Professor Kalina Bontcheva (University of Sheffield, UK) and Dr Julie Posetti (International Center for Journalists,U.S.; Centre for Freedom of the Media, University of Sheffield/ Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, University of Oxford, UK). The other contributing authors are Denis Teyssou (Agence France Presse, France); Dr. Trisha Meyer (Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium); Sam Gregory (WITNESS, U.S.); Clara Hanot (EU Disinfo Lab, Belgium); and Dr. Diana Maynard (University of Sheffield, UK).

Download the Executive summary: (in English - Spanish - French)

Chapter 1 - Introduction

Chapter 2 - Typology of Disinformation Responses

Chapter 3 - Research Context and Gaps

Chapter 4 - Identification Responses

Chapter 5 - Ecosystem Responses aimed at Producers and Distributors

Chapter 6 - Responses within Production and Distribution

Chapter 7 - Responses aimed at the Target Audiences of Disinformation Campaigns

Chapter 8 - Challenges and Recommended Actions

Download the entire Report


This research is available in Open Access under the Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 IGO (CC-BY SA 3.0 IGO) license. By using the content of this publication, the users accept to be bound by the terms of use of the UNESCO Open Access Repository.  Published in 2020 by International Telecommunication Union (ITU), Place des Nations, CH-1211 Geneva 20, Switzerland, and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, and United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), 7, Place de Fontenoy, 75352 Paris 07 SP, France.

ISBN 978-92-3-100403-2 


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