9. International Collaboration

International cooperation is a critical factor behind civil society success. In addition to the leverage issue vis-à-vis companies discussed earlier in the chapter, international cooperation allows civil society to share best practices in the rapidly evolving fields of digital forensics and counter-messaging, and to share information about emerging transnational threats and the proliferation of disinformation toolkits used by malign actors both foreign and domestic. 

For instance, as COVID-19 took root, a coordinated Chinese Communist Party (CCP) information operation proliferated that was designed to sow misinformation about the origins of the virus, to undermine the successes of democratic actors in combatting the virus, and to amplify stories around CCP aid to countries struggling to contain and treat the virus. IRI convened a group of over a hundred representatives from civil society from every corner of the world to facilitate information-sharing about CCP tactics and narratives related to the virus, as well as best practices for countering that information operation. Such networks and information-sharing are absolutely critical to civil society as they attempt to stay ahead of information threats.    

Regional collaboration has also helped to expose and counter coordinated cross-border information operations. Activists in countries impacted by Russian disinformation have collaborated to share information about Russian tactics and narratives that are repeated across their countries, or where the same assets (accounts, pages, groups, content farms, etc.) are used across borders. They have also collaborated in applying open source intelligence (OSINT) to expose Russian lies: the InformNapalm group is a volunteer effort comprised of individuals from across ten countries who expose “evidence of Russian aggression to the world”, including publishing the names of Russian servicemen who have fought in Ukraine, Georgia, and Syria based on the social media activity of those individuals.

As mentioned, the Poynter Institute's International Fact-Checking Network provides a mechanism for the certification of fact-checking groups according to its principles, and for coordinating fact-checking globally. In addition, IFCN's system and members have been integrated into Facebook's online systems for reviewing and potentially downgrading content within it. This has the potential for amplification both through the online tech platform and through the network of organizations sharing best practices and performing research and fact checks globally.

Some of the most successful civil society initiatives combatting disinformation are volunteer-run initiatives. This reflects a grassroots reaction to what is a relatively novel threat. However, online disinformation is not only here to stay, it is likely to metastasize and evolve as platforms, actors, and tactics proliferate. Civil society thus needs a funding model that recognizes the requirement for long term, dedicated, expert staffing. Per Thomas Kent, “Grants often fall in the $10,000-$50,000 range—hardly enough to hire staff and get major projects underway. Real breakthrough projects might be big-ticket items like opening radio and television stations to compete with broadcasters controlled by authoritarian governments and corrupt financial interests. Projects of this scope are almost impossible given the way funding is handled now.”