Civil society plays a critical and multifarious role in information integrity infrastructure, but most organizations operating in this space are under-resourced, low capacity, and otherwise nascent. Funders and implementers need to invest in the long-term development of expertise at the grassroots level, in international collaboration, and in local to global communication in order to ensure that future threats to information integrity are dealt with promptly, and to create a global environment in which disinformation becomes a less effective tactic for hybrid warfare, political competition, or malign interventions in civic discourse.
Civic organizations play a key role in identifying and responding to information disorders, especially where they can establish reputations as relatively independent, objective actors. However, these advantages come with tradeoffs, especially if their constituencies tend to be relatively urban, highly educated, wealthier, or more internet-connected on average. Program designs should take care to target interventions to encourage uptake among underserved groups.
Network and coalition approaches to countering disinformation, including international collaboration, can identify comparative advantages, increase scale, and improve the diversity of programmatic approaches.
Relatedly, programs focused on civil society should incorporate an intentional focus on inclusion, and more specifically, intersectionality, particularly in coalition and network approaches. Support for civic groups should incorporate a distinct analysis to identify unique challenges faced by groups with intersectional identities within a specific historical context, since perpetrators of disinformation campaigns may rely on the apathy or complicity of non-marginalized identity groups. Collective action is more likely when these groups and individuals that are not politically marginalized understand that they have an interest in defending the rights of smaller and more vulnerable groups.
Civic organizations may consider partnering with existing political or social institutions to scale programmatic responses to disinformation, especially if the organization itself has a small or narrow audience. One example might include partnering with school systems to implement media-literacy programs.
Programs working on advocacy, especially around internet or platform regulation should consider the specific cultural context of debates surrounding tradeoffs between free expression and security.
Programs working with civic organizations to implement counter-disinformation programs should consider dedicated security training components, including cybersecurity, data protection, response plans for information attacks, and physical security from retaliation.