Disinformation is not a phenomenon of the digital age. It has long been used to damage political opponents, destabilise societies and legitimise regimes. However, digital technologies facilitate the rapid spread of disinformation, since anyone can easily distribute disinformation – even without intending to.
Declining trust in the media and governments contribute to these developments. Disinformation and the threat it poses are fast becoming part of the political agenda; heated debates around the consequences of disinformation on societies, as well as the dangers of ‚information warfare‘ are commonplace. The use of messenger services to spread conspiracy theories and disinformation has not been in the public eye in Germany so far. The recent discovery of far-right extremists on these platforms, as well as the pandemic, have shed some light on these practices. The many facets of disinformation have to be examined in greater detail. The issue is of enormous importance for domestic security, as well as for social cohesion and cooperation. The impact of disinformation outside of politics is often side-lined, despite the tremendous risks: huge amounts of disinformation concerning the coronavirus has been circulating worldwide since early 2020, including false studies, alleged self-testing and ineffective preventative measures. The World Health Organization (WHO) describes it as an infodemic, which carries a significant health risk¹. By 2022 three billion people are expected to use messenger services worldwide², with many lacking the media literacy necessary for the digital age. Not only is the way in which we communicate changing rapidly, but also how we consume media and news. Reading newspapers, watching the news together or talking on the phone is shifting to closed-off forms of communication and news consumption. Our societies will need to adapt: what shared experiences and knowledge concerning the spread of disinformation exist on a global level? Has the complexity of the issue been adequately discussed in public to date? What approaches might contribute to an enlightened and resilient society?