How Latin American Governments Fight Fake News
This article is adapted from QAthe special report on the battle against fake news
Governments and civil society have tried a number of different approaches to tackle disinformation. But the barriers are formidable. Latin America has one of the highest rates of social media use in the world, making countries fertile ground for fake news. But many of the proposed solutions infringe freedom of expression or can be easily abused by authoritarian governments with their own agendas, among other flaws.
Below, QA has compiled five categories of initiatives tested, discussed or implemented in certain regions of Latin America.
1. Government-run fact-checking and monitoring services
In June 2019, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador launched Verificado, a fact-checking operation, as part of the government program Notimex news wire. In August 2021, he had no activity. Civil society and journalist groups have expressed fears that the tool is politicized and undermines the credibility of independent fact-checkers. (Verificado also faced a legal battle over the name itself, as several Mexican fact-checkers were already using it.) In Argentina, the Public Defender’s office launched the Observatory of Disinformation and Symbolic Violence on digital media and platforms (NODIO) in October 2020, to “detect, verify, identify and disrupt malicious news”. Critics across the region have said the move could amount to censorship, and a few opposition politicians have tried unsuccessfully to prosecute the public defender who created the unit.
The most common response to disinformation in the region is to try to create legislation to stop it, said Laura Duarte, a researcher at Columbia University. In Brazil, the Internet Freedom, Accountability and Transparency Bill, commonly referred to as the “fake news” bill, was approved by the Senate in 2020 and is now in the lower house. The bill aims to tackle the spread of false information by making social platforms responsible for combating disinformation and creates an “internet transparency council” with members of government and civil society. After Venezuela’s controversial 2004 radio social responsibility law, which was followed by an amendment to the country’s penal code in 2005, several Latin American countries are seeking to criminalize the dissemination of false information, with penalties ranging from up to 10 years old as in the Nicaraguan special program. Cybercrime law from 2020. Critics say that the laws of Venezuela and Nicaragua are indeed tools of political persecution. Other proposals making fake news a crime are being discussed in Chile, Colombia, Panama and El Salvador. According to the International Press Institute, 17 countries around the world have adopted some form of regulation targeting disinformation during the pandemic, with many other bills still pending before legislative bodies.
3. Work with social media companies
Several governments are trying to work with social media companies to tackle the main tools used to spread fake news. Mexico’s National Institute of Elections (INE) signed collaboration agreements with social media companies ahead of the 2018 elections. As part of these agreements, INE staff received training on the use of and monitoring of the Facebook platform, while Google has pledged to disseminate information generated by INE on the electoral process on YouTube, as well as other initiatives such as the marking of polling places on Google Maps . Argentina’s electoral authority has signed a memorandum of cooperation with Facebook, which has pledged to amplify official election information while limiting the visibility of fake messages. Brazil’s Superior Electoral Court (TSE) has also partnered with social media platforms, creating an official WhatsApp chat box where people can send inquiries about questionable posts directly to officials of the TSE. Another tool allows election officials and WhatsApp to receive and collect information about social media accounts suspected of mass messaging, which also violates Facebook’s terms of service.
4. Ethical pacts between political parties
In Uruguay, the six political parties represented in Congress signed an ethical pact against disinformation in April 2019, pledging “not to generate or promote false news or disinformation campaigns to the detriment of political opponents”. The pact was proposed by the Uruguayan Press Association as part of a three-pronged campaign against disinformation that also includes training for media professionals and a fact-checking tool.
5. Media literacy training
Researchers and scholars are almost unanimous in saying that media literacy programs are the most effective long-term tool against the spread of fake news. The state of São Paulo in Brazil has included media education as an optional course for middle school students to help them recognize current affairs and verify sources. Argentina’s fact-checking group Chequeado has developed a manual with UNESCO to help train others to spot disinformation. Outside the region, Finland introduced a media literacy program in public schools in 2014 that teaches children from the age of six to read sources critically. Children learn to rate and check websites and look for questionable sources. In 2019, the Finnish government topped the European Media Literacy Index which measures countries’ resistance to disinformation and disinformation.
Rauls is a former editorial assistant at QA
Key words: The battle against fake news
The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of Americas Quarterly or its editors.