The Role of Exchanges in Countering Disinformation

The internet has changed the way people consume and communicate information. Living in the digital age has had a number of positive effects on society, allowing people to have access to services and information 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. However, the internet may also be used as a weapon to mislead and manipulate. Exchanges, people-to-people programs and citizen diplomacy play a significant role in America’s whole-of-government approach to countering disinformation and media manipulation.  In fact, exchanges provide the sustained societal engagement that not only fosters resilience in individuals and communities, but also positively influences the context in which false information is spread and received. As a result, tackling this issue requires a multi-pronged approach that relies heavily on people-to-people networks. These networks foster trust and constructive discourse, while organizing people around common goals. At SCI’s annual conference, the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the U.S. Department of State reported that it is focused on initiatives that are guided by five principles:

  1. Building Human Networks – One of the strongest antidotes to a poisoned information environment is human authenticity–networks of informed and trusted human relationships.
  2. Going Positive – Positive initiatives allow disparate groups to unite around common goals and to operate in diverse social and political environments.
  3. Playing the Long Game – Authoritarian regimes win sprints; democracies win marathons. Authoritarian regimes can spread falsehoods with impunity, unconcerned with independent media, independent legislatures, independent courts or public opinion. We must keep our eye on the prize–independent, indigenous media, free flow of information, and the absolute right of every individual to freedom of opinion and expression.
  4. Engaging the Next Generation – We must engage the ever more tech-savvy and thus ever more tech-dependent younger generations. Technology is value neutral and young people need to learn that they, not the technology, make the decisions for good or ill.
  5. Shaping the Context – Disinformation and media manipulation are means and not ends. They must be seen in the context of the rule of law, of levels of education, of media freedom, and of trust among communities within a country and among countries.

A multi-faceted strategy that relies heavily on people-to-people networks is needed to fight disinformation as these networks foster trust and constructive discourse, while organizing people around common goals. Youth outreach on issues such as safe technology use, and source reliability are important, while utilizing the technological skills of the younger generation.


SCI’s 2019 Annual Conference featured a session led by ECA Senior Advisor Rick titled ” Disinformation: The Human Dimension and Diplomatic Minefield.” Ruth discussed the differences between disinformation and misinformation, the motivations behind disinformation, common characteristics of foreign disinformation and practical ways for individuals, local governments and Sister City programs can foster resilience to disinformation. This interactive workshop on disinformation is valuable to all local programs and local governments.