In September, the Swedish Commission for Media and Information Literacy and Democratic Dialogue released their final report*. The message sent is that although there are threats to an inclusive and open dialogue, there are measures that can be taken to move in a positive direction.
The commissions’ task was to investigate how digital environments affect participation in democracy with a focus on challenges such as disinformation, propaganda and hate speech. In its final report, the commission gives an account of its work, dealing with how to strengthen democratic dialogue in a digital era.
The commission was appointed in 2018 following a strategic document by the Swedish government concerning how to promote, safeguard and defend a strong democracy. The strategy describes challenges, factors and phenomena risking to undermine a strong democracy and democratic dialogue. Among these are disinformation, propaganda and hate speech. Although these are not new occurrences in the media, following digitalisation the extent and the pace in which this is spread has amplified.
During the two years the committee has been operating, the efforts have been to promote resilience to disinformation, propaganda and hate speech. Most of the work has been outreaching, mapping existing initiatives, rather than proposing concrete suggestions for future actions in the field.
To strengthen resilience to disinformation, propaganda and hate speech, the commission give the following recommendations (in short):
Create a national strategy for enhanced resilience to disinformation, propaganda and hate speech.
Coordination of efforts is paramount to being efficient, as is long-term financing.
Strengthen efforts within media and information literacy.
A long-term and broadened mandate to appropriate government agencies is recommended. Involvement of further government agencies, municipalities, news media and civil society organisations will broaden the scope.
Adapt methods and resources to reach further target groups. Evaluate efforts through research.
Target efforts to counteract hate speech addressing elected representatives.
People active in public debate, e.g., politicians, journalists and opinion leaders are often targets of hate speech. Women and speakers with foreign backgrounds are particularly exposed. Efforts are necessary to avoid some voices not being heard in public debate.
Enforce and maintain trust.
Trust in public institutions, agencies and administration as well as trust between one another is challenged. Respectfulness and fairness in public debate promote trust.
Investigate global tech giants’ influence on democracy.
Social media play an important role for the democratic dialogue in our time but are also arenas for disinformation, propaganda and hate speech.
*) The final report is available in Swedish only.
Read the full report:
Det demokratiska samtalet i en digital tid. Så stärker vi motståndskraften mot desinformation, propaganda och näthat (SOU2020:56) [The Democratic Dialogue in a Digital Era: How to Strengthen Resilience to Disinformation, Propaganda and Hate Speech]