Combatting Misinformation - Ireland signs up to the Declaration on a Trusted, Sustainable and Inclusive Digital Future

Posted on Wednesday, 25 January 2023
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On the 15th December 2022, Ministers and Representatives of the OECD countries, including Ireland, passed the Declaration on a Trusted, Sustainable and Inclusive Digital Future. This Declaration condemned Russia's invasion of Ukraine and contained a statement of solidarity with the Government of Ukraine " in its efforts to uphold and promote the benefits of an open, free, global, interoperable, reliable, accessible, affordable, secure and resilient Internet.". As such, the Ukrainian crisis provides the backdrop for a broader commitments to combat online disinformation campaigns.

While recognising the "profound and transformational implications for our societies and economies" of digitalisation, the Declaration further acknowledges the "challenges, risks and potential harms" that digitalisation can bring. The Declaration proceeds to welcome three outputs that were launched at the meeting at which the Declaration was agreed:

  • Four new OECD Recommendations on Digital Security aimed at managing digital security risk;
  • The outcome of the OECD Horizontal Project on Data Governance for Growth and Well-being, which aims to enhance the capacity of member countries to develop coherent and holistic data governance policies to develop the understanding and measurement of data quality; and
  • The Declaration on Government Access to Personal Data Held by Private Sector Entities, an agreement by member countries on privacy and data protection, and the protection of other human rights in the accessing by law enforcement and national security agencies of personal data held by private entities (for more information on this Declaration, the Cross-Border Data Forum have published an article, available here).

In addition to the above, the Declaration also contained a list of 15 commitments by OECD member countries to strengthen digital security, protect privacy, address mis- and dis- information, promote more competitive markets in areas such as communications, social media, digital trade and so on, and addressing all "digital divides", including investment in "connectivity, digital technologies, digital public services, mobile government, skills, training, education, and capacity building to empower people to actively participate in digital societies and succeed in workforce transitions."

Ireland and the Digital Divide

Ireland’s performance on digital skills is concerning (Chart 1). Over 55 per cent of the population have low or basic digital skills. Over one third of the adult population (36 per cent) has low digital skills, well above the EU average (28 per cent). Only one fifth of the population have basic digital skills. This general gap in digital skills is also confirmed by the OECD PIAAC survey of adult learning. Clearly one implication is that expenditure on training will have to increase, especially if we are to meet our digital literacy target. Across the OECD average spending on training for the unemployed and workers at risk of involuntary unemployment is only 0.13 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP). 

Chart 1: EU-28 Digital Skills Levels, 2019

Digital Skills 2019

Source: Eurostat (2021), Social Justice Ireland Socio-economic Review: a 2022 guide to a fairer Irish society.

Ireland and the Media Literacy Index

The Media Literacy Index is was created in 2017 by the Open Society Institute in Sofia, Bulgaria at a time shortly after the 2016 US elections when "fake news" and "alternative facts" were new concepts. Since then, misinformation and disinformation have spread, particularly in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic and various viral anti-vaccine campaigns. Most recently, of course, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has been marked by a misinformation offensive, "infowars", with Russian control of national media spreading propaganda.

The latest Media Literacy Index 2022 was published in October 2022. Ireland ranks quite highly, coming 5th out of 41 countries.

This Index is comprised of four overarching indicators: Media Freedom; Education; Trust; and New Forms of Participation. The weighting of these indicators, which contain a series of sub-indicators, is set out in Table 1.

Table 1: Methodology of the Media Literacy Index 2022

Indicators Weight
Media Freedom Indicators  
Freedom of the Press score by Freedom House 20%
Press Freedom Index by Reporters without Borders 20%
Education Indicators  
PISA score in reading literacy (OECD) 30%
PISA score in scientific literacy (OECD) 5%
PISA score in mathematical literacy (OECD) 5%
Tertiary Education enrolment (%) (World Bank) 5%
Trust Indicator  
Trust in Others (World Values Survey) 10%
New Forms of Participation  
E-participation Index (UN) 5%
Note: Table 1. The table shows the methodology of the media literacy index with the groups of indicators, sources and their respective weight (importance). The data are converted into standardized scores (z-scores) from 100 to 0, highest to lowest.  

Source: Open Society Institute Sofia, 2022, Policy Brief 57: How It Started, How It's Going: Media Literacy Index 2022, October 2022

Ireland scores highly on the Media Freedom Indicators, dropping just one position to 6th out of 41. We fare better on the Education Indicators, jumping to third place overall. Our Trust in People ranking is 4th. However, when it comes to New Forms of Participation we fall to 15th. This suggests, notwithstanding an impressive overall ranking, there is still more to do to support "E-participation" which is included to measure the use of information and communication technologies to enhance political participation, making possible for citizens to communicate with each other, the elected officials and authorities.

E-Participation: Digital Public Services

Part of European Commission's eGovernment strategy is a move towards Digital Public Services. In March 2022, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER) launched Connecting Government 2030: A Digital and ICT Strategy for Ireland’s Public Service which set out the framework within which Government Departments would meet their digital commitments under the national digital strategy Harnessing Digital – The Digital Ireland Framework and the targets set out in the Civil Service Renewal 2030 strategy. As part of this process, DPER issued a call for submissions on the development of digital public services in certain areas such as applying for a medical card, passport or driving licence, paying taxes, registering a birth, death, or marriage, accessing certain welfare supports and grants, Garda vetting, accessing library services and so on.

In our response to this call, Social Justice Ireland highlighted the challenges associated with broadband coverage, digital skills and literacy, online security, and access to digital services by marginalised groups, while welcoming the many opportunities presented for those with access. The plan for addressing mis- and dis-information, however, is far from clear.

Lessons from Finland

Finland has consistently topped the rankings of the Media Literacy Index - coming first five years in a row. The Finnish Government developed a Media Literacy Policy and a series of programmes targeting young people and encouraging critical thinking. The policy was updated in 2019, having been first introduced as far back as 2013. Targeting of adolescents appears to be critical, as research reported in the British Journal of Developmental Psychology indicates that this is peak time for conspiracy theory belief. The research found that conspiracy theorizing is heightened in children at around age 14, while older children (aged 14-16) reported higher conspiracy theory belief than younger children. Those aged 18 had a higher conspiracy belief than mixed-age adults, indicating that peak.

Ireland's signing of the OECD Declaration is a very positive move, and one which requires resources to strengthen media literacy and critical thought. Following the example of Finland, this should start with dedicated programmes at late-primary and early-second level education.