A woman hands a poster to a group of young people. Her T-shirt bears the words ‘Cyber Safe’. A woman hands a poster to a group of young people. Her T-shirt bears the words ‘Cyber Safe’.

Governance and democracy: Get your facts straight!

Disinformation threatens democracies. GIZ promotes fact-based discourse, both on and offline.

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Citizens should be able to form their own opinions based on sound information – that is the precondition for free and fair elections and thus for every democracy. GIZ supports its partners in curbing disinformation and promoting social cohesion instead of hate speech.

Junior is worried. One of his neighbours has been raving about a drink that supposedly cures diseases. It is making a splash online as a drink with miraculous properties. He decides to look for reliable information. But how can he distinguish it from disinformation?

Junior is a fictitious character in the ‘Digital Enquirer Kit’, an online training module aimed at civil society, journalists and human rights activists. The participants follow Junior in a variety of situations and learn how they can protect themselves and their information, recognise disinformation, and cross-check information to ensure credibility. The online training has been developed by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH together with civil society partners from 11 countries including Barbados, Kenya and Sri Lanka. The idea emerged during a hackathon that was cofinanced by the European Union (EU) and the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). Over 24,000 people have already taken the e-learning course.

Junior’s story is not real, but similar situations occur every day. ‘There has been a huge increase in disinformation, online violence and hate speech in recent years,’ says Peter Drahn. He is an expert in human rights at GIZ and was involved in developing the Digital Enquirer Kit. ‘They threaten the right to freedom of opinion and access to information, and can divide societies or pose a serious threat to the functioning of a democracy. We observed this during the COVID-19 pandemic, for example, and are seeing it now in the context of geopolitical tensions.’

Children describe a poster with the heading ‘The internet we want’.

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Telling stories about living together peacefully

Although false information is most commonly found on social networks, it is not a purely digital phenomenon. ‘Online incitement and disinformation do not stay in the ether, but have real consequences for many people,’ Aaranya Rajasingam explains. She is the team leader in a project in Sri Lanka that tackles disinformation, incitement and social divisions – cofinanced by the EU and the German Federal Foreign Office.

This became especially important after the Easter bombings in 2019, when Islamist extremists detonated bombs in several churches and hotels in three of the country’s districts. After the attacks, social media were full of hateful comments about Muslim communities in the country. This was followed by anti-Muslim violence in Sri Lanka’s North Western Province.

At this time GIZ launched a campaign in the districts affected. Together with more than 1,500 young people, it worked on combating hate both on and offline. The youngsters made films about people who stood up against discrimination or organised a multi-faith breaking of fasts, to which all members of the community were invited – and streamed the meeting on the internet.

‘It was a challenge to work on positive stories about coexistence while the social media platforms were awash with hate speech,’ Aaranya says, looking back. ‘Yet this social media campaign led by young people became a counter-movement to the acts of violence.’ More than eight million people saw the videos and posts that told stories about community and peaceful coexistence.

In Sri Lanka, a group of young people around a table have a lively discussion.

© Hashtag Generation

It starts in the community

The Digital Enquirer Kit is also being used in Sri Lanka. Hashtag Generation, one of GIZ’s partner organisations, uses its contents to train young people to be ‘citizen journalists’. They learn how to take a critical approach to information that is spread in their communities online and offline and how to take action themselves. They research and produce fact-based reports on current issues that concern their communities.

The idea is simple: start by counteracting violent discourse and disinformation within the community – don’t wait until it has spread throughout the country.

Last update: May 2024

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