Many current counter-disinformation initiatives focus on addressing the production or “supply side” of digital disinformation. Less attention tends to be paid to the consumption or the intended audiences of disinformation campaigns.
A central concept in understanding people’s consumption of and vulnerability to digital disinformation is its imaginative dimension as a communication act. Key to the power of disinformation campaigns is their ability to connect to people’s shared imaginaries. Consequently, counter-disinformation initiatives also need to attend to these imaginaries.
This report examines why the precarious middle class in the Philippines has been particularly susceptible to digital disinformation. It focuses on two key imaginaries that disinformation producers weaponized in the year leading up to the 2022 national elections. The first was a long-simmering anti-Chinese resentment, which racist social media campaigns about Philippines-China relations targeted. The other was a yearning for a “strong leader”, which history-distorting campaigns about the country’s Martial Law era amplified.
Ironically, some practices adopted by members of the public to protect themselves from the toxicity and vitriol of online spaces increased their vulnerability to digital disinformation. The cumulative impact of these was for people to dig deeper into their existing imaginaries, something that disinformation producers targeted and exploited.
We offer two suggestions for future counter-disinformation initiatives. The first has to do with addressing people’s vulnerability to the weaponization of their shared imaginaries. Counter-disinformation initiatives can move past divisive imaginaries by infusing creativity in imparting information. Collaborating with well-intentioned professionals in the media and creative industries would be key to these kinds of initiatives.
The second has to do with addressing people’s media consumption practices. These practices tend to open them up to sustained and long-term digital disinformation campaigns, which provide them with problematic imaginaries to dig into. To establish a similarly robust common ground of reality, counter-disinformation initiatives should themselves be programmatic, not ad hoc.
This book is on the press and will be available
for purchase from 14 August 2023.