Crime and security expert calls for Senedd inquiry into ‘disinformation’
A crime and security expert has called for a Senedd inquiry into “disinformation”.
Professor Martin Innes, a director of Cardiff University’s Crime and Security Research Institute, said the targeting of Mark Drakeford’s home by anti-lockdown and anti-vax protesters showed the Welsh Parliament needs to take action.
He hit out at “conspiracy theories” and the “toxic cocktail of digital disinformation and political polarisation”, which he says is leading to “increasingly worrying offline behaviour”.
A crowd of around 150 gathered outside the First Minister’s private residence in a street near to the city centre with some chants calling for him to be arrested.
Some reports suggest that those taking part included some wearing yellow star badges, similar to those Jewish people were forced to wear in Nazi Germany.
In an article for the welsh agenda, which is published by the think tank, the Institute of Welsh Affairs, Professor Innes wrote: “The protest, which had started earlier in the day in the centre of the City, involved a coalition of anti-lockdown, anti-vaccine, and anti-mask groups, alongside some more established radical political entities.
“It came together as part of a coordinated series of events spanning a number of global cities, including London, Paris and Sydney amongst others.
“Although fortunately no violence occurred in Cardiff, it is the latest signal of how a toxic cocktail of digital disinformation and political polarisation online is translating into increasingly worrying offline behaviour.
“The events in Cardiff demonstrate how the coronavirus pandemic and our collective responses to it have been especially susceptible to being influenced by a variety of conspiracy theories and disinformation.
“These have variously claimed, amongst other things, that vaccines cause infertility, and are part of a ‘deep state’ plot to monitor and track citizens’ movements.”
He added: “Furthermore, there have been a number of recent stories, especially centred on female politicians and public figures in Wales, documenting how they are being subject to smear campaigns, hate and disinformation.
“For example, ITV Wales reported on the ‘threats of physical harm, online abuse and death threats’ against former education minister Kirsty Williams, which eventually led her to step down from office.
“Even if these issues are not yet as pressing in Wales as they are in other countries, taking preventative action is probably wise.
“After all, we know there are a number of conditions that make liberal democratic political systems and social orders especially vulnerable to influence operations and disinformation campaigns, both from within and without.
“In light of the recent targeting of Welsh politicians, and the extent to which disinformation has impacted the effectiveness of the public health response to Coronavirus in Wales, there are good grounds for launching a Senedd inquiry into these issues.
“These ‘local’ reasons are reinforced by the fact that some of the wider geopolitical trends are also being experienced in Wales.
“For example, the economic pressures on local news media sources, as audience consumption patterns shift increasingly towards social media bases sources has clearly impacted upon the Welsh media landscape.
“Consequently, a Senedd inquiry into disinformation or misinformation, such as the one the IWA called for in its report Media Priorities for the Next Senedd [pdf], should take as its starting point three main questions.
“First, ‘What evidence is there of misinformation and disinformation being used to try and manipulate political processes recently in Wales?’
“Second, ‘How can a range of countermeasures be integrated into Welsh media and politics, to help protect people from malign information and influence campaigns?’
“Finally, ‘What can be done to prevent Welsh media becoming increasingly exposed to sources of disinformation?’”