Commission against disinformation stirs debate in Chile

7 minutes
Commission against disinformation stirs debate in Chile
"Silhoutte of a man looking at a mobile phone surrounded by question marks and data" interpreted by Adobe Firefly.

Chile's Ministry of Science, Technology, Knowledge and Innovation called its initiative to form a group of academics and members of civil society to temporarily support the government in analyzing disinformation in the country "Advisory Commission against disinformation". It is possible that the name itself, and the entity that convened it, were the reasons why the announcement raised the specter of censorship in Chile, as alerts immediately appeared about an alleged intention of the government to control public discourse.

According to the decree creating it, the Commission, which will have an emphasis on digital platforms, will study the impact of disinformation on democracy, international best practices and public policies. This work will result in recommendations and advice to the Ministry for the development of public policies and for its participation in international bodies on this matter. In turn, the new body should prepare reports with proposals or conclusions and serve as a specialized consulting body.

The commission is chaired by Minister Aisén Etcheverry and includes, among others, researchers from the University of Chile, the Pontifical Catholic University of Valparaíso, the Catholic University, members of organizations such as Datos Protegidos and Multitudes, and the data verification media Fast Check CL.

For some, it is important to implement measures against disinformation and to promote literacy programs to mitigate the damage caused by this phenomenon, but the fact that these initiatives come from the government has raised suspicions. According to Carlos Jornet, president of the Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information of the Inter American Press Association, it is problematic that "it is the State that creates a commission to determine from its point of view what is most convenient".

Although on paper the commission's capabilities are limited, its announcement has given rise to ideas of a "ministry of truth" with the ability to establish what is false and what is not. The same effect was caused recently by the discussion of the "fake news" bill in Brazil, which aims to regulate digital platforms and at some point envisaged a supervisory body that was finally withdrawn due to the scope that this narrative reached.

On this idea, Minister Aisén Etcheverry has warned that "this is not a commission that is going to define what is and what is not true, it is not going to make an analysis nor is it going to issue an opinion regarding content". She also clarified that the body does not have within its functions to regulate or receive complaints of false news, but to understand the social phenomenon of disinformation.

The skepticism and political tension surrounding the commission even led to the presentation in the Senate of a draft agreement to denounce its unconstitutionality, under the premise that it affects matters that should be processed through bills and not by the will of the government.

The initiative comes at a critical moment for the Chilean government, shortly after the opposition obtained majorities in the Constitutional Council, the new institution in charge of drafting a constitution after the previous proposal - defended by the government - was rejected.

It is precisely these processes, both the approval of the first proposal and the election of the new board members, were marked by disinformation narratives that appealed to voters' deep-rooted feelings and values.

Despite the echo caused by the news, it has also been argued that its objectives may be insufficient to truly address the challenges of this problem in Chile. In an article signed by Vladimir Garay and published by the organization Derechos Digitales - whose executive director, Juan Carlos Lara, is a member of the organization in his personal capacity - its powers deviate from a deeper analysis of disinformation in which its detrimental effects on democracy and the motivations that favor its production and amplification are concretely demonstrated.

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