Public Authorities as a Target of Disinformation
Keywords:disinformation, communications, decision-making, public authorities, national security
Disinformation is a part of a modern digitalised society and thus affects public authorities´ daily work. Through disinformation, malicious actors can often erode the fundamentals of democratic societies. In practice, this can be achieved by influencing authorities’ decision-making processes and creating distrust towards public organisations which can weaken authorities’ ability to function. In Finland, public authorities have relatively transparent and open decision-making processes and communication practices compared to other democratic societies. This transparency and openness can be seen as a vulnerability, increasing the opportunities for malicious actors to use disinformation. The authorities of public services are also seen as producers of evidence-based official information. In general, Finns have very high trust in public authorities. Trust has a major impact on societies’ psychological resilience and susceptibility to disinformation. The results of this article strengthen the idea that disinformation weakens authorities’ ability to function. The producers of disinformation, aided by citizens’ high confidence of public authorities, aim to utilise authorities’ communication by misrepresenting the content according to their own agenda. In this study, our purpose is to describe public authorities’ experiences relating to disinformation in their own organisation. This study follows a qualitative design framework by analysing data collected in September 2021 using inductive content analysis. The empirical data includes 16 government officials’ interviews with themes exploring how disinformation affects their daily activities and why they are targets of disinformation. This article is part of a larger project relating to counterforces and detection of disinformation. The results contribute towards a broader understanding on how different types of public authorities, ranging from health to security organisations, communicate in complex social media environments.
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