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Stop the Virus of Disinformation

The Malicious use of Social Media by Terrorist, Violent Extremist and Criminal Groups During the COVID-19 Pandemic

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Sozialwissenschaften, Recht, Wirtschaft / Politikwissenschaft


The Report describes how terrorist, violent extremist and organized criminal groups are trying to take advantage of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic to expand their activities and jeopardize the efficacy and credibility of response measures by governments. The COVID-19 crisis has amplified misinformation and disinformation on social media and has created new opportunities for violent non-state actors. In recent months UNICRI has detected an exponential increase of malicious use of social media to undermine trust in governments and, at the same time, to reinforce extremist narratives, recruitment strategies and control of the territory by criminal groups. Terrorist, violent extremist and organized criminal groups have successfully exploited vulnerabilities in the social media to manipulate people and disseminate conspiracy theories. In this Report we analyse how technology can provide valid instruments to combat online disinformation and misinformation, highlighting both the advantages and the limitations. It must be emphasized that technology can support but not replace human ability and skills to evaluate the veracity of online information. Moreover, the effective use of technology to detect and debunk disinformation should empower people using social media so that they can make their own informed decisions about what is verified and what is not. This, then, can empower people to build a closer relationship with truth and justice. We hope this Report enhances knowledge and understanding of this complex problem and encourages the identification of new approaches to prevent and combat the malicious use of social media by violent non-state actors.

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