PEN America understands disinformation as a fundamental threat to free expression and democracy. The PEN Charter, drafted in 1948, commits to fighting “mendacious publication, deliberate falsehood and distortion of facts for political and personal ends.” PEN America has taken up this urgent issue as a core part of our work, beginning in 2017 with the publication of our report Faking News: Fraudulent News and the Fight for Truth, in which we anticipated the potential risks if disinformation went unchecked, including “unending political polarization and gridlock; the undermining of the news media as a force for government accountability; a long-term risk to the viability of serious news; an inability to devise and implement fact- and evidence-driven policies; the vulnerability of public discourse to manipulation by private and foreign interests; an increased risk of panic and irrational behavior among citizens and leaders; and government overreach, unfettered by a discredited news media and detached citizenry.” Today we see a deluge of falsehoods, in words and images, injected into the public conversation, often in deliberate campaigns by sources who seek political, financial, or societal advantage. Disinformation impedes the public’s access to the accurate information needed for civic engagement and informed decision-making, and disrupts the practice of journalism itself, as evidenced in our 2022 report, Hard News: Journalists and the Threat of Disinformation. It undermines our public discourse, sows discord, and weakens our political system and ultimately our democracy upon which free expression rights rest.
PEN America believes an empowered public and vibrant news ecosystem are the best means of countering disinformation’s pernicious effects. As such, we work with journalists and newsrooms, community leaders, researchers, policymakers, tech platforms, and other stakeholders to enable equitable access to credible information and advance a healthy information landscape.
These findings highlight the importance of trust-building within communities of color, working with and through community and faith leaders, and supporting community and ethnic media in bolstering disinformation resilience.
Faking News rates the range of fact-checking, algorithmic, educational, and standards-based approaches being taken to counter the proliferation of fake news.
Micro-targeting capabilities have weaponized disinformation, so that what might once have passed muster as simply a hard-edged campaign message in the public arena can now move with stealthy, laser-like efficiency to reach sub-segments of voters while remaining invisible to the wider public or opposing campaigns.
Confronted with the scope and stakes of the problem, Losing the News ultimately calls for a radical rethinking of local journalism as a public good.