Countering Disinformation in Pakistan: Lessons and Recommendations for Digital Journalism

Reliable journalism is not only a casualty of disinformation but also its antidote, and Pakistani journalists and the local news industry have a frontline role in countering disinformation to ensure the public has access to trustworthy information. This research study aims to examine the effectiveness of past and existing efforts to counter disinformation in Pakistan with the intention to provide evidence-based recommendations for future initiatives.

This exploratory research study by Freedom Network and Digital Media Alliance of Pakistan (DigiMAP), with support from IMS, attempts to document non-governmental efforts undertaken to counter disinformation in Pakistan, compile learning about their effectiveness and provide evidence-based suggestions for the future.

The study finds that journalistic and factchecking disinformation responses in the country have struggled due to lack of conceptual understanding of disinformation among journalists, monetisation trends that incentivise sensationalist news and reduce the impact of capacity building initiatives, lack of financial sustainability of responses, language barriers and political backlash.

At the same time, the research finds that local capacity building responses have improved the ability of individual journalists to understand Covid-19 misinformation and hashtag manipulation on Twitter, whereas fact-checking responses have led to the development of efficient workflows, informed recruitment principles, contextual verification practices and collaboration with social networks to downrank viral online disinformation. The digital journalists who participated in a survey for this study identified factchecking training as their most urgent need to counter disinformation.

The study also confirms findings from literature that disinformation is negatively affecting the work and safety environment of Pakistani digital journalists. The journalists surveyed for this research reported that disinformation has increased their risk of getting deceived by fake social media posts during online newsgathering. In addition, most women journalists surveyed for the study said they were targeted with gendered disinformation campaigns, which caused them physical, psychological or reputational harm. The study concludes with recommendations of how to employ factchecking, training, coalition building and improved media and information literacy to counter disinformation.