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Economic Recovery and Combating Disinformation

in partnership with digitalis, concordia global patron member

may 27, 2021 | DIgital

10:30-11:15 Am EDT


The key to a full and sustainable economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic is a successful mass vaccination program with the majority of citizens accepting the offer of the vaccine. And yet, while this fact has long been clear to policy makers, a significant percentage of citizens continue to mistrust their governments enough to reject the vaccine – in large part fueled by anti-vax disinformation easily found online – thereby posing a significant threat to the successful outcome of the program.  

This Concordia Live explored the political and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the U.S. and UK and examined the role of government in confronting the major threats to recovery, not least the battle to contain the anti-vax movement. Our expert panel for this session included two former Cabinet Members from the U.S. and UK.

Former U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson, and Former UK Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, shared their personal perspectives on the handling of the crisis, and how the governments of the U.S. and UK can secure a full economic recovery for their people. Matthew Swift, Founder of Concordia, and Dave King, CEO of Digitalis, the specialist digital advisory firm and a Global Patron Member of Concordia, also joined the panel.

Questions from the Audience

So much of America’s disinformation tsunami of today can be traced back to the revocation of the FCC’s Fairness Doctrine in 1987. Is there any value in attempting to resurrect it to help battle disinformation?

This is worth the inquiry not just for reasons of anti-vaccination but also for public safety. Secretary Johnson spoke to the environment we live in today and how disinformation can lead to violence, he specifically highlighted the January 6th insurrection. 

With unlimited means and if a western government treated its message in the same way a private individual might approach the protection of their reputation, how could misinformation be challenged or its visibility reduced in public spaces, before it filters down into more informal spaces – once there and adopted by people we personally know and trust, it seems to become a matter of changing people’s minds and feelings, which is a very tall order.

Dave King explained that there are technologies that can rebalance what people see on the platforms. There is also an increasing and rapid removal of disinformation. To get better at this, government policy and big tech support is needed.

Who is the truth umpire?

    • Amber Rudd “In the UK it is the BBC News.”
    • Dave King – “It should be policy informed by the government, systems deployed by big tech, and information by polling. It is the algorithms used by the private sector.”
    • Secretary Johnson – “To me, it is PBS or NPR, but it should be anyone who exists on multiple platforms. “

In Case You Missed It...

  • Dave King set the stage of disinformation, specifically on online platforms, taking place globally.
    • King began by emphasizing the importance of trust and how it pertains to moving forward following the COVID-19 pandemic.
    • Over the last 15 or so months, especially in the UK there has been a surprising yet resounding amount of citizen obedience. 


    • While research did not predict this response, King suggests that the economic support from government has sustained the public trust in government. This has accelerated the trend of government involvement in people’s lives. King emphasized the growing threat of disinformation which undermines the trust governments are working to establish. 
    • This bodes well for recovery because trust goes hand-in-hand with vaccine uptake and further compliance.
    • While Big Tech companies are more engaged in responding to the threat of misinformation, there are more hostile actors working against government and public health interests. 
    • As misinformation spreads, addressing the challenge is far different in the UK as it is in the U.S.
    • King highlighted the protection of free speech in the U.S. as a reason for limitations to remove content that might be threatening or misleading. 
    • In the UK, King identified marginalized minority communities who are more vulnerable to disinformation as the largest challenge.


  • Amber Rudd set the scene of the UK’s expectations of the private sector in combating disinformation.
    • She began by reviewing the experience of citizens in the UK during the start of the pandemic. 
    • Echoing King’s point, she highlighted the surprising obedience to government regulations. 
    • When the vaccination rollout began, citizens were keen on getting vaccinated. 
    • Rudd also draws a distinction between anti-vaccination individuals and individuals who experience vaccine hesitancy. In regard to vaccine hesitancy, the point of trust in the government was emphasized. Rudd explained that the trust was much more fragile and maintaining trust – by limiting the people who provoke vaccine hesitancy – was of the utmost importance. 
    • Rudd emphasizes that media companies and private sector companies in general must not amplify anti-vaccination campaigns.
  • When asked about who the authority is, government or private sector organizations, on determining what is accurate information and what is misinformation, Secretary Johnson explained that the role of a truth umpire is not for the U.S. government. 
    • Johnson identified that the U.S. intelligence community can be influenced or pressured by their political masters. 
    • This fuels the anti-vaccination movement and is emblematic of the broader problem. This is a threat to not only public health but public safety. 
    • One example of a private sector company that has served as a truth umpire is Newsguard. They use a scale to identify online news articles that may include misinformation. Johnson emphasized the need of more trusted flagger organizations like this to monitor what goes on social media, if not social media organizations themselves. 
  • Amber Rudd echoed the importance of finding a truth umpire but that it is extremely difficult or even impossible.
    • People must be encouraged to look at different types of information so that they can have a more informed opinion. 







    • Rudd explained that it is a mistake to think there ever might be a truth umpire because everyone has their own biases and there are an overwhelming number of channels of information which cause individuals to pick one that reinforces their biases.
  • The challenge, identified by Dave King, is that the truth online is not binary. There is often a legal or benign content where a clear view can be taken. In the middle there is a raft of gray content where opinions differ. 
    • Another challenge identified by King is that the truth umpires cannot address the informally published content. 
    • A concern of King’s is that when you look at the resource level of hostile states to promote disinformation, it is much greater than that of other states who work to combat disinformation.
  • Secretary Johnson spoke to the grey area of outright truth and falsity identified by Dave King. 
    • There is a lot of editorializing in a space that should just be straight news. The news is becoming more opinionated. 
    • Ultimately, the answer to this big problem tracks back to the consumers. It is the responsibility of the citizen to be an informed citizen. 
    • Additionally, government representatives must be as truthful as possible in their communication. 
  • Amber Rudd believes that disinformation is a hazard of information. It is the responsibility of the platform to defend against and prevent online harm. She also explained how difficult it is to define what disinformation is. 
  • Amber Rudd asked Secretary Johnson if the amplification of people’s views creates more division?
    • Secretary Johnson explained that those in public life who can command a microphone and an audience have a duty to be responsible in their rhetoric. 
    • There is a Constitutional right to free speech but there is no right to the amplification of free speech. A distinction must be made between the two. 
    • There needs to be a way to elevate trusted sources and delineate the two.