These past few years, there has been a rapid increase in the creation and spread of misinformation both online and offline. The online world allows this type of information to reach a certain number of people as well as to gain geographic reach on social media. As explained in a study published by the European Parliament, disinformation can create devastating effects on democracy, public discourse and human rights, as it undermines trust in public institutions and endangers public health – specifically in the time of a pandemic. As we know, opinions and information are mainly protected by the freedom of speech. A democratic society is characterized by the freedom of its information, media freedom and pluralism. So how can the Swiss current policies respond to misinformation? Indeed, the alteration of existing laws and policy measures is usually seen as a way of undermining freedom of spech, especially on social media.
Social Media freedom
For a while now, social media platforms have taken the role of aggregating, organising and redistributing information. However, it is very alarming to see that misinformation counterfeits media appearances by engaging genuine, unsuspecting journalists and experts. As a consequence of that, pseudo media companies, think tanks and civil organizations are created. The Swiss government recommends to protect the credibility of the media and to fact-check all the information received from these platforms, especially Facebook and Twitter.
During the pandemic, people have felt that the government was taking advantage of the crisis to control people more by regulating the behaviour of their citizens through policies that some might consider as inappropriate – contrary to “a real democracy”. An example of this comes from “Friends of the Constitution”, a Swiss movement that collected signatures for a petition to reform the 2020 Covid Law developed by the government. According to a swiss info article, their board members believe that they were introducing more control and less democracy into the society, as they consider that the crisis cannot be handled only by the government but by the willingness of their population.
Actually, Switzerland was the first and only country that gave power to its citizens by having a direct vote on coronavirus restrictions. However, based on the referendum they held last year, the Swiss government continues to have a legal basis to impose restrictions and sanctions to handle the pandemic. Still, the Swiss population is concerned about its individual freedom.
As stated by the European Parliament, more than half of the UN member states have reported violations of freedom of speech and violence against journalists covering the pandemic, and for that, organisations, academics and the society in general have been restricted from obtaining access to information refering to the pandemic. This situation has led to general mistrust and speculations. People are facing many challenges online, including insufficient information, lack of possibility to verify the information in other sources rather than just the Swiss governmental platform. Politicians can change this by enabling democratic participation, improving the conditions for the shaping of public opinion, as there is no democracy without freedom of speech. Maybe if people felt like they were involved in the decisions, they wouldn’t feel so resistant about them.