Peter Cunliffe-Jones writes on media literacy and misinformation

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Following last week’s launch of the Misinformation Policy in Sub-Saharan Africa policy briefing, project lead Peter Cunliffe-Jones has been sharing insights from the briefing across a wide range of outlets. In these articles the problems of regulation are further highlighted, along with suggestions of how things might be improved through media literacy and the six C’s.

Writing for the Daily Maverick, Cunliffe-Jones notes that between 2016 and 2020, 10 of 11 countries surveyed — Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Niger, Nigeria, South Africa and Uganda — introduced or amended laws or regulations penalising publication of “false” information. The other country, Senegal, used existing laws for the same purpose. He also goes on to suggest that where these laws or regulations are used to prevent the continuing spread of harmful misinformation, as was the case against financial hoaxes in Uganda and dangerous public health misinformation in South Africa, it’s plausible they may directly reduce harm. However, it is important says Cunliffe-Jones to remember that “punitive laws do little to deter and nothing to correct false information and thus curb harm, once the false information is in circulation”.

In a further article for Significance, Cunliffe-Jones goes further in stating that the growth in often punitive laws has had a “chilling effect” on media and political freedom. “Self-censorship has increased in the recent past due to the state’s continued arbitrary application of the law and violence against reporters and social media journalists,” one analyst in Uganda told those compiling the briefings. What’s more, the laws had virtually no identifiable effect on the level of harm misinformation caused.

Cunliffe-Jones has also looked to Europe and it’s role in exporting forms of regulation in an article for Politico.  “The approach embraced by Brussels simply doesn’t work, in Europe or anywhere else. Not only does it fail to address the harm from misinformation, our research suggests it risks doing real damage of its own” says Cunliffe-Jones, suggesting that Bad laws intended to halt disinformation can be used to limit public debate.

All is not lost though, as the Misinformation Policy in Sub-Saharan Africa paper notes, media literacy might offer a way out of this situation. In an article for Africa Check, Cunliffe-Jones reiterated the six-Cs of misinformation literacy, and points to how these, in conjunction with the policy briefing published by University of Westminster Press, can aid in challenging new misinformation regimes.

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