IGF 2022 Day 2 Lightning Talk #31 The intersection of disinformation and other online harms: combating digital offences – RAW

The following are the outputs of the captioning taken during an IGF intervention. Although it is largely accurate, in some cases it may be incomplete or inaccurate due to inaudible passages or transcription errors. It is posted as an aid, but should not be treated as an authoritative record.



>> MODERATOR: Good afternoon. Welcome to the session. I hope I'm audible. I think it's been quite the interesting two days. Our technician just took a short break because he's at a session before this as you've seen. And the last session is starting. I think we're looking forward to a very interesting session. It's going to be short but extremely stimulating. And I'm sure there will be lots of thoughts and discussions afterwards. I'll be introducing Tina Power. Tina Power is representing alternative law tech follow ‑‑ technologies. She's a human rights lawyer. Children's rights, online harms, equality and nondiscrimination. And the second speaker is Nomshado Lubisi Nkosinkulu and she comes from Media Monitoring project. She's a specialist in many other areas in terms of internet and technologies. Organization focuses on priority of human rights and democracy. And they do that through the media. I'll hand over to Nomshado. Thank you.

>> NOMSHADO LUBISI NKOSINKULU: Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for joining this session. I was telling earlier on we've been speaking about this information in various aspects. Never really looking at it from a point of how does this intersect with other online harms. When we do speak about hate speech and violence, there's an element of this information within that. The reality is the internet on its own when it came about when it was created, that was a space envisioned for us to be able to practice our freedom of expression and hold power to account and for us to be able to expression ourselves to link with global connections, et cetera. However, the very same space has become now a bigger platform for those who want to use the space for counter narratives or online harms to push a certain agenda. That is the reality. The danger of this comes about when we're affecting our elections and decision makings. You have a right to make an informed decision. For one person to be able to go online, interact with content that simulates a certain decision, that's where it's starting to become. So what I'll be doing now is I'll be going through painting the picture of the intersection, focusing on a few case studies, a few solutions and my colleague Tina here will come in for more legal case study perspective. And also speaking a bit on gender as well. At the end of the day, that has become one of the biggest threats we're fighting online. Media Monitoring Africa, we used to be project. For quite a number of years now, we are Media Monitoring Africa. And we've been monitoring media coverage since 1993. And in doing so, we've been able to kind of see the trends over the years, the coverage over the years and how that has been coming about. In the year 2017, we started realizing there's actually something happening here that really poses a huge threat. We started seeing that there's a lot of narratives that are going online that are interacting with the same credible information that everyone has the right to. And we started thinking as citizens, how can we empower?

At the end of the day, reality is we can speak to government and big tick. If somebody had to post one tweet speaking of content narrative and trying to push a certain forced agenda and no one retweeted it, would it have the impact it's supposed to have?

No. Because what they are looking for is for amplification. They are looking for you to reshare and for them to connect to your followers and the next followers, et cetera. And if we do not empower citizens and if we do not give them the literacy we need, at the end of the day, as much as we can make the noise, we're not dealing with what we need to deal. And that's when a platform called real form one came about. Online platform that allows a citizen be able to submit a complaint they see online of any digital offense of the following, harassment, disinformation, insightment to violence and as well as ‑‑ I'm for getting one. Hate speech. Thank you. And the idea behind this is, number one, we were speaking about this earlier on as well. There's a fine line when it comes to freedom of expression and sensorship. And that's the line we need to protect. At the same time, we need to protect the spaces that we're interacting with. So this is empowering a citizen to say if I'm saying something online and suspecting there might be element of this information, let me submit this. What happens behind the show is we have tech, media and law experts who review it. Reviewing meaning they do the research, et cetera. From there on, it goes to secretareate. It's to emphasize on the strength of a multi‑Stakeholder approach. We cannot be speaking about tech without involving tech. Cannot be speaking about government without involving them as well. That's why the system was important for us to initiate. In 2019, it was launched and we held our elections then. We started seeing the impact of this. Remember now it is a pilot stage almost. And that year, the amount of information going online that could have held so many people going out to vote. If you have artificial nails like mine, you are not allowed to go and vote because in South Africa, after you vote, there's a mark they leave on your thumb. Now, the assumption was if you have these type of nails, you wouldn't be allowed to vote. Means they cannot put the mark. Imagine how much interaction that content actually had. But because we had such a system, we're able to pick it up, to speak to relevant bodies and try and stop it. Our body was our biggest partner in this. Helped us to analyze traits and the evolvement of disinformation online. And great porous to realize is it's getting more sophisticated and becoming very difficult for someone to ‑‑ to a point whereas technology is getting advanced, disinformation is also getting advanced. We're talking about deep fix. For those that do not know what deep fix are, these are altered images and audio media assets that are put together to create a false narrative. So I'm speaking and I'm saying this information is a threat. Somebody could have used my voice and made me say something different. Some do it so perfectly the AI technology is in lip sync. And what happens?

Everyone now says that Nomshado says one, two, three. And now take somebody in power and do something like that. And let that go online. I'm saying this from African perspective. Not everyone has the literacy to understand there is such a thing called a deep fake or Photoshop. Or me taking just a little element of the truth and using it to twist it in my own alternative. And the reality is this information always, always has a percentage of truth. That's how they thrive. In South Africa, there was a night where all what'sapp, Instagram and Facebook went down. It was not connecting all of a sudden. It was resolved later. The following morning, there was voice notes going around. They were collecting your data and if you do not share this, won't be able to use your account because it will be deactivated. It was shared so many times where a point people really believed such content. For me, that highlights the danger that we're dealing with. If we are not combatting it and not understanding that this is apparent. We had a bit of an unrest whereby a video was used to amplify violence. It was a video taken in 2016 in India. It was of a burning building. People were jumping out. This was posted on our Twitter and referenced as don't go to this street, guys. This is the current situation. That was shared over 300,000 times. It was interacted with not only locally, continentally and globally. If anyone paused to investigate that video, they'd realize a number of elements. Language, monuments, what the people were wearing. And even the building itself. The street. The signages. You would have been able to pick up not in South Africa. None of our official languages, none of our monuments and none of our burning buildings. But it was shared and people were amplifying it. In the beginning, if no one retreated that, it would have stayed the same and wouldn't have amplified that. The way it insighted violence, it did it in such a way that it went from online to off line. And that's where the danger comes in. Hate speech, same thing. And I think Tina will touch on that.

Harassment is the same thing. You are being harassed online. And there's different online violences that one can experience. From doxing to trolling and bots pushing the same narrative. And people can't tell if I'm seeing five accounts seeing the same thing, this should be a red flag. Literally they don't even change a word. Different profile pictures, different names. People don't understand it's about your feed looking the same way for you to perceive what?

A decision at the end of the day. Looking at that and looking how do we end up looking at the current context and not talking about the future. We understand and moving with the technology. We're also empowering at the same time. We're highlighting the danger of it. We're bringing in democracy. That's what we want to protect at the end of the day. The human right to make that informed decision. At the end of the day, if all these digital offenses are not spoken about in the same bucket. I mean they all hold the same level of impact, then what we're doing is we're almost working in silos. Cannot leave the other offenses. I think my time is up. I'm going to allow Tina to come up. Thank you so much.

>> TINA POWER: Thanks. So unsurprisingly, as a lawyer, I will be talking about the law. And even more unsurprisingly, as a human rights lawyer, I'm going to take us through a rights based understanding of this topic. I firstly want to look at how disinformation manifests particularly in South Africa. There's a lot of open lap around the world. Secondly, how disinformation intersects with specific rights and what this then means for our legal frameworks. So firstly, we've seen particularly in South Africa a lot of gendered disinformation. Particularly our journalists. They've been targeted over the recent months and years. Disinformation is also being racialized. South Africa has a complex diverse history and a lot of disinformation is pegged to how we identify racially. We also have a lot of concerns around nationality and ethnicity. And South Africa is becoming one of the most zenephobic around the world. If you are a journalist, you are likely to be targeted more. If you are a female politician, likely to be targeted more. Human rights activist, you are likely to be targeted more. These are all the ways we are seeing disinformation manifest. What I want to focus on and is a very useful example is the gendered element and this feeds nicely into a rights based framework and South Africa's legal framework. So if we look at what gender discrimination means and we've had a few conversations over the course of the week with Irene, APC and others around what we mean by gender disinformation. And here we're looking at the intentional spreading of harmful and misleading content that is grounded in misogyny, gender stereotypes ‑‑ we're seeing deep fakes. Harassing content that is false. And this has the effect of causing particularly women and members of the LGBTQ community to leave platforms or to be silenced. So freedom of expression is limited and this limits people's access to information. We are also seeing the ways in which this impacts specifically from a rights‑based perspective. Freedom of expression and access to information. And people's thoughts and beliefs. This is a right we don't often talk about. It can get complicated. The way in which disinformation is changing the way we think and changing the way particularly young people are being rad allied is frightening. When we reinforce gender narratives about women needing to stay at home and make babies and take care of their husbands, we are teaching children to think that way. This is a huge consequence for our future. We're seeing significant impacts on the rights to dignity, equality and non‑discrimination. From a gender perspective, that's clear. And we're seeing a lot of threats to safety. And this can both be physical safety. We've seen there's been a few cases where the details, the personal details female journalists have been published on Twitter by political members of our parliament which is concerning. And had rape threats and death threats and has resulted in off line harm. There's also a significant harm to people's psychological integrity and mental health and all of these feed into the way in which gender discrimination is impacting our rights. So what now?

It's a miss. Disinformation is spreading like wildfire. We're struggling to control it. There are novel ways of figuring it out. There's been a lot of talk about regulation. Some people are for it. Some are against it. Some are still figuring it out. Personally, and speaking on behalf of MMA, there's a lot of concerns about regulating this information. This can have consequences for free speech. We're seeing that in a lot of countries in Africa. We don't need to regulate. We've got laws and misuse them. Disinformation impacts so many rights, we can use the laws that protect the rights to address this information. The intersection of disinformation, the harms it causes and the rights it violates means we have existing frameworks. We have a fantastic international law framework that feeds into the way domestic constitutions are developed that feed into the way domestic legislation is drafted. I want to use south African example to show how we don't need to reinvent the wheel. We neigh need to tweak some laws and engage with lawmakers about what online harms are. Some of them are not so aware. We passed the domestic violence amendment act. And this act can be used to get a protection order in South Africa. If someone is threatening you, harassing you, stalking you, sending you messages you don't want, you can rely on these two pieces of legislation to get a judge to say, A, take down that content. B, stop sending that content. If you do any of this again, you'll be committing a criminal offense and face criminal penalties. And so we spent a significant amount of time pushing the government to amend the law to recognize online harms as one of the harms that can take place. And recently in January this year, the president signed the amendment. So we have the existing framework. We didn't need to reinvent it. Add one or two sections to change the way in which we can engage in these issues. We got another section included which leads to platform accountability. Now, if you get the order you need, you can then take that to Meta, to Tik Tok, whichever platform and say, look, this needs to be taken down. And based on our experience with platforms and trying to get content taken down, there's a lot more power when you have a court order.

The final wonderful part about these acts is they are set to be victim and survivor centric. You don't need a lawyer to represent you, don't need to file legal pleadings. Go by yourself with a friend and say this is what's happened to me. The police officer or magistrate must help you fill out the forms and take you through the process. Meant to be cost effective and timely. This is a practical solution we can engage with online harms.

And finally, we can use these acts to address disinformation without restricting speech or without regulating the way in which speech happens. When there is speech that is harmful and violates our legal provisions and contrary to our human rights framework, something does need to be done. We already have existing frameworks that can enable this. And we would love to spend as much time as possible talking to you about this. 411 is a social platform, the ways in which we're engaging with community media. All of these require holistic solution. The law, as much as I love it, is not the only solution. And can only take us so far. We need people to be kind online. And we need to be sensible about the way in which we suggest people should or shouldn't talk and what the long‑term consequences of that would be. I'm hopeful and incredibly excited having heard everything that's been said this week. There are a lot of phenomenal people in the world doing the right thing. We can combat this without causing too much harm or no harm at all if possible.

[ Applause ]

>> MODERATOR: Thank you, Tina. I think the time is quite tight. I'm sure there's a lot to chew on and to think about. I was actually going to ask even to give a case study. We've had a number in South Africa especially with disinformation. And female journalists being targeted on social media where politicians put out phone number and personal addresses. And we've seen how mentally it affected some of them and the consequences of it. They monitor the media and they do a lot of research. Come up with magnificent research. We've been able to get lawyers pro bono taking up these cases. And I'll hand it back over to you to talk about SBC 8. Or anyone you think about.

>> NOMSHADO LUBISI NKOSINKULU: I think historically ‑‑ I'll really try to be short. South Africa is coming from a background where freedom of expression was really something that was thoughtful. And we protect media freedom like it's our last drop of water. That is a right that no one should take away from any citizen. And Africa with the coverage. In saying that, we have robust media. Journalists go above and beyond to ensure they are bringing factual information and holding power. We have female journalists who are the greatest at their jobs. Because they are putting power, maybe they might be somebody's favorite politician or somebody's favorite person in power. They then form a troll network. They go online and target that individual. Or in some cases, a person empowered to take the personal information such as their cell phone number and put it on Twitter and tell their followers to say let us go and show the power of our specific party, for example. Meaning what?

One journalist is going to be harassed on their own personal line that was meant to be their own and something that they control. And that power stripped away from her in two seconds.

Other case is a female journalist is covering a story which is quite ‑‑ let me say, it's a topic of the day or concern of the day. And then under the same post, we take pictures, this is what's happening now. In the same post, the same people following her from that person is power is now saying, for example, you clown hogging female. Why are you even bothering to tell us what is true when you yourself are not even close to credibility?

And now no longer stripping away physicality or way of interacting. But now even stripping away credibility. You are known as a journalist who is not able to tell credible information because there's a troll network formed to dislocate her from her job to discredit her from her credibility. And I'll touch on that looking at time. It brings you back to the realization how if that is taken away from media freedom and this information is slipping into it in that manner, for example, what will happen in ten year's time if people can go to a credible news site to get information because it's been deemed as a false news site.

>> MODERATOR: I just think that is crucial. And like we said, much more that we can talk about. Can I take a few questions now?

The lady in the back.

>> Hi. I'm Rebecca. Based in Africa as well. What do you recommend citizens do when they recognize disinformation online?

>> Good afternoon. I have a contribution and a quick question. I'll make it very short. Of course, this topic is very important for us to discuss. As a journalist myself, I had to move from main stream journalism into acadamia because of harassment. In terms of teaching student, fact checking. So really, organizations could be doing more. But if their education is not there, still circle back. So you see student journalist. I teach social media in school. Teach student how to do journalism online. And you see them having such challenges. People poking things into their messages and trolling them. All they have to do is close their account and open another dummy one. Don't even know where to go. So now my question is apart from just taking note cases and trying to help journalists, is there really much education in journalism institutions to make sure they really under the concept of that?

Then secondly, in terms of education as well, do they have adequate training on identified fake you can talk to them about it?

What are the softwares?

Do they know how to use it and differentiate between what deep fake is and video is terrible and using it against them. Thank you.

>> Hello, everyone. My name is Nicodemis from Kenya. Most segregated people for this information are women. And actually, we had a very hard time with politics. Just had Kenya politics in August. Female politicians were really targeted. And it was so much that most of them avoided the internet because of this information. And this information is gendered. Targeted to women and if you are a woman, you'll be deemed in many ways that you are popularity will go down.

My concern is that as we are bringing this conversation on board, what measures are we putting in place to ensure that we peel off the layers of discrimination. We have the intersectionality whereby this information flowing because of gender or politics. Or their social class. Currently, I'm holding position as ICT accessibility. And this information affects people with disabilities more so women more than any other normal person.

>> So many questions. So nice we have the same problems, I guess. I'm from Germany so it's like really different part of the world. Did you see that during the Covid crisis, this whole thing increased. In Germany, people went nuts about it. You probably know that we have this. Historical problems with Nazis. And so many harassment going on with journalists and politicians. And they all tend to say it's the same thing happening during 1934 and before it. So that is really so horrible. And that would be interesting. And a short answer. Working for reporting platform where citizens can just report when they see something. And I'm a lawyer as well. We try to assess that and bring it to the public prosecutor's office. So horrible what you see online.

>> MODERATOR: Thank you for those questions and discussions. Before I hand over to the panel, I just like to touch on your thing. I work for training institution advancement of journalism. What we realize is that students graduate after the four‑year degree. University equipped them with is theory. What is actually missing is the practical implementation. So what we've seen more, we've reworked curriculum. They take the journalist graduates that come into the media houses and put them through a year's reorientation. Within that year, reorientation, you find organizations in our country offering different slots and talk about disinformation. Some will talk about fact checking, different things. What we realized journalists come out but not ready for the news room. And because the landscaping is changing so quick and so fast, they no longer have cultures within the news rooms. That's a crucial platform we need to collaborate to ensure actually factual.

>> NOMSHADO LUBISI NKOSINKULU: I'll quickly take the first two questions and then Tina's going to take the last two questions. The first question speaking on what can you do sitting here?

A lot. The power lies in your hand. This little gadget we walk around with. In this, you hold so much power. As an example, if no one entertained it and commented on it, if everyone saw it reported it, it wouldn't get the amplification it needed. We always amplify and repeat, report and report it. Understand all the different platforms and reporting mechanisms. The lack of education around that and understanding that each platform does have a reporting mechanism. Yes, there's a lot to work on as well. They are there to empower you to do something. Anything digital in terms of offensive online. Report on harassment hate speech. We always say please submit any complaints you see. We want to stop it and halt it whether it's a take down notice and pushing around this is a fake news alert. So Covid was the perfect environment for disinformation. It thrived. What happened was people were anxious, people were fearful. It plays on emotion the most. Because of that environment, it was able to do what it needed to do. And quickly in South Africa, there was a grant given to those affected by Covid. 350 or something like that. And the government rolled it out. Now people are starting to get SMSs. The government is not giving to be able to benefit on this. Now wants details to get money. Because of the lack of education and understanding this is not a government site. I need to start looking at this. Start looking at my link. And goes back to digital literacy. I cannot begin to emphasize. We cannot already say because you have a cell phone, I know everything. No, you don't. You need to continuously learn. At the end of the day, that's what it does. It also gets advanced. But aside from that, those that not only access here and there don't understand the day of the ‑‑ they are going to do anything they need to do to get it. So that's just speaking on to your question. And the other one. One of the things we realized as well was when we are looking at the landscape of disinformation from a perspective of digital literacy, the way that AI come into play has been something see it as something fearful or something that is a threat or something that is an opportunity. Can be used in ways as mentioned deep face. How do you know lip syncing?

If my mouth is not moving with audio, something is wrong. I wish I had time for a presentation and showed you example of high president saying something completely out of it but he looks like he's speaking quite well. Half of his side is not moving and him speaking like this, then you would have been able to pick it up. If you are sit there anything and I'm not saying anything about it, how would you know?

So there's a huge gap when it comes to education. And goes back to per I can aluminum. If kids learned about this in school from the youngest of ages, these young ones are so advanced. Showing their parents how to do things now. The same people using the same platforms in the future. If that young learner starting almost to get there. In terms of I'm not talking coding, et cetera. Curriculum wise, there's a lot of things that needs to be done. Grades 2 or grade 1 learner and digital literacy and it moved with years. Until they are out to do their degrees and University qualifications, how much work would you have done?

Didn't even need to do anything. It was already in the system. And curriculum changes as well. It changes with time, context and content as well. So clearly shows there's a lot that needs to be done in terms of digital literacy and the power that comes with it as well.

>> TINA POWER: Thanks. Where are we on time?

I'll be very brief. I think your question was fantastic. I loved the way you described peeling away the layer of discrimination. I wish I had the answer. I think the world would be the better place. There are a lot of answers and a lot of opportunities. But one obvious one is education and engagement. And calling out nonsense. And I know that's hard and scary. Particularly online and that's one of the ways you get targeted. Those who do feel empowered and those who do feel brave. Can make a world of difference. Around the definition around concept. And there's been a lot of men who said things about concept. It's important to call out that content and say no, that's not what consent is. You are not entitled. And to just be brave enough to say that can make a difference. And that can empower someone else in turn. And all of us as people who care and want the world to be inclusive to take those steps and hold government account. Every little act of discrimination that you see or witness doing something about it can make a significant difference. And on Covid, it was the worst. The real 411 platform just come out of elections and the day we were moving it out of the election space into more broadly online harms was a few days before we went into lock down and interestingly, not a lot of it was gender based. Black people were blaming white people. Different ethnicities and groups were being blamed. And nationality was a huge one. A lot of Zimbabwe people were being blamed. Chinese people were blamed. And identifying features of people. But not so much on gender. It was a huge problem and South Africa's digital literacy is very low. So a lot of harm came from that. People drank and ate and do harmful things because they read it online. And thought their religious leaders were telling them to do it and trying to rechange the narratives was very difficult.

>> MODERATOR: Sorry about the time. Always not enough time. One of the crucial things we've been discussing briefly this morning was at events like this, always like minded people sharing information and talking to each other. What do we do when we go back home?

How do we go beyond organizations working together overlapping and complimenting what they are dog and getting the message into the ground. We were discussing this morning if we should start advocating against the basic education. But we need to see quite seriously. Advocacy we love doing. So seriously thinking again what do we do to go beyond these forums?

How do we make sure the policies and everything that's in place actually starts making an impact from the ground up. And that's what I would like to leave with all of us today. Thank you for being here.