In the past few years, disinformation has frequently made headlines. Disinformation can be used as a weapon. Russian sources claimed that the US was developing biological weapons in Ukrainian laboratories in order to create unrest and provide justification for Russia's invasion of Ukraine. But even closer to home, we regularly encounter disinformation. Could disinformation also impact your work? How can you arm yourself when disinformation targets you or your work environment?
The scenario: disinformation
According to the Dutch government, disinformation is false, inaccurate, or misleading information deliberately created and spread to earn money or harm a person, social group, organization, or country. We might think that disinformation is a modern phenomenon. However, as early as the 1950s during the Korean War, North Korea, China, and the Soviet Union spread messages claiming that the US had released disease-infected insects in Korea. One significant difference between disinformation during the Cold War era and now is that the spread of disinformation through the internet and social media is much faster in today's time. In the Netherlands, we also frequently confront disinformation. The COVID-19 pandemic provided fertile ground for various conspiracy theories, often targeting scientists and scientific organizations with disinformation. This not only affects the personal safety of those affected but can also discredit entire organizations.
Bioweapons Disinformation Monitor
As disinformation increasingly proliferates on various platforms, laboratories in the life sciences are likely to be affected. To effectively recognize and interpret disinformation about biological weapons, a website has been developed with information and videos. This "BioWeapons Disinformation Monitor" is an initiative of King's College London in collaboration with the Canadian government.
Course of action
The videos on the Bioweapons Disinformation Monitor provide tips on how to deal with disinformation, both preventively and when it affects you or your organization:
- Raise awareness about the possibility of disinformation and/or potential (foreign) manipulation. Also, train yourself to verify the sources of information.
- Speak out and condemn misinformation campaigns targeting life science organizations.
- Actively disseminate objective information (without bias or specific perspectives).
- Encourage people (citizens/employees) to critically evaluate new data/information by considering the source, authors, and medium.
Sharing your scenario
If you would like to discuss how to handle this scenario further with the Biosecurity Office, do not hesitate to contact them. If you encounter a biosecurity scenario yourself that you would like to share with colleagues in the field, let us know! The Biosecurity Office can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.