Disinformation campaigns against the courts

What is disinformation?

Courts and judges are often the targets of criticism, so it’s important to understand that not all criticism amounts to disinformation. It’s also important to note that disinformation often includes an element of truth—but it’s being exploited or taken out of context. Consider the following definitions:

Disinformation – false or inaccurate information that is spread deliberately, most often by adversaries. This includes technically factual information purposely presented in a misleading way and may include amplification by a bot or other inauthentic account.

Misinformation – false, inaccurate, or incomplete information that is spread mistakenly or unintentionally, often by American citizens.

What are the threats to the courts?

Research from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) into foreign disinformation attacks on the American justice system has identified the following “four frames” that are used to challenge the independence and impartiality of the U.S. justice system

  • The justice system tolerates protects, and covers up crimes committed by immigrants.
  • The justice system operationalizes the institutionally racist and corrupt police state.
  • The justice system directly supports and enables corporate corruption.
  • The justice system is a tool of the political elite.
Responding to disinformation

Every misinformation or disinformation scenario is different and requires creative thinking to counteract. However, several best practices for dealing with disinformation have emerged. These include:

  • Be accurate. At the state level, disinformation related to the court system feeds off exploiting any inaccuracy or mistake to cast the court or the judge in the worst possible light. Be sure you are operating from a factual position.
  • Lead with facts. Focus on providing accurate facts first and do not lead or repeat false messages. For example, in a situation where fake court documents are released on the internet the response should focus first on where accurate and verifiable information can be found, not repeating or reshowing the forgeries.
  • Respond quickly.  Disinformation can spread rapidly. Your counter-message should be ready to disseminate as soon as possible. Always take the opportunity to direct your audience to where they can find verified information online.
  • Develop a simple, accurate, short counter-message.  Avoid complex messages and legalese. Speak plainly and use values-based messages.
  • Be visual. False information on social media is often compelling because it is paired with engaging images. Judicial procedure explained through an infographic or flow chart will be more accessible to the public than through legal jargon.
  • Establish your verified voice. Use your social media platforms, like Facebook and Twitter, to regularly point people to where they can find reliable information on court operations.