From debunking to prebunking

Disinformation on migration series

Policy Study

29/11/2021

How to get ahead of disinformation on migration in the EU

Despite increasing efforts to address disinformation, EU institutions, national governments and civil society still struggle to overcome one fundamental challenge. Disinformation actors can spread lies quickly and widely by adapting their messages to the news cycle and appealing to their readers’ emotions, concerns and value systems. In doing so, they set the tone and content of the conversation ahead of everyone else. This is demonstrated by recent events in Afghanistan and Belarus, where disinformation campaigns quickly sprang up online, aiming to feed public anxieties and reinforce the belief that Europe is facing a repeat of the 2015 ‘migration crisis’.

In this context, debunking efforts – fact-checking individual false claims after they have been published – usually fail to effectively counter the lies they are meant to counteract. Nor do they prevent disinformation actors from exploiting attention-grabbing events to manipulate public perception and steer social divisions. In contrast with debunking, this Issue Paper argues that disinformation should be pre-empted by taking strategic action before it begins to circulate. The guiding principle of this approach is that of ‘prebunking’.

Prebunking relies on two pillars, each linked to a specific timescale. In the short to medium term, efforts should be devoted to identifying false stories as early as possible, or even anticipating future narratives. In the longer term, citizens should be provided with the critical skills to distinguish facts from falsehoods and filter out manipulative content.

The EU prebunking system built through these actions will not only support ongoing efforts against disinformation. It will also help European citizens cope with and orient themselves within a rapidly changing information environment. It will promote an inclusive and fact-based public discourse. In a context where migration-related disinformation creates intergroup tensions and threatens the peace and security of European societies, prebunking efforts will also promote social cohesion, rebuild public trust and protect democratic institutions.

This Policy Study is part of the Disinformation on migration series conducted in cooperation with Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) and European Policy Centre (EPC) to help make sense of the disinformation trends relating to refugees. This series also includes:

Network
European Policy Centre (EPC)
Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung
Related publications
09/12/2022

Disinformation on refugees from Ukraine

Disinformation on migration series
09/12/2020

Fear and lying in the EU

Disinformation on migration series
Find all related publications
Publications
13/05/2024

Growing remittance industry

Progressive Migration Group series
13/05/2024

Labour migration from the European periphery to the EU’s core

FEPS YAN Series
15/04/2024

Labour migration in the Western Balkans

Balkan Focus series
24/01/2024

Progressive Yearbook 2024

Looking back to look ahead
Find all related Progressive Post
Progressive Post
30/11/2023

Is it time to turn down the volume on the migration debate?

29/09/2023

Lampedusa tragedy: 10 years later nothing has changed

19/06/2023

Chronicle of a failure foretold

Find all related events
Events
Past
24/01/2024
FEPS HQ

Progressive Yearbook launch

08/11/2023
EP, Brussels (Expert meeting)

Progressive Migration Group

An African-European dialogue on migration
20/10/2023
Perugia, Italy (Hybrid)

Perspectives on migration

The political economy of migration policies across Europe
Find all related news
News
07/12/2023

Call for Tender – Research on Migration

This call for tender closed on 05/01/2024
26/01/2023

Grzegorz Pietruczuk is FEPS Progressive Person of the Year

FEPS Progressive Person of the Year 2023
10/12/2022

Multiannual research project: Disinformation about migration in the EU

How to counteract disinformation effectively?
01/10/2018

International Progressives gathered in the framework of the UNGA to send a message on Migration

Find all related in the media
In the media

Is it time to turn down the volume on the migration debate?

by IPS Journal 13/11/2023
IPS Journal article about FEPS policy briefs 'Communicating on migration'