Combating Disinformation Across
The Globe

UW Continuum College offers one of the most prestigious International and English Language Programs (IELP) in the United States. It features a variety of curricula and partnerships, such as the Distinguished Humphrey Fellowship Program, which helps enable Fellows to share approaches from their home countries with American counterparts, allowing for innovative solutions to global challenges.

With an abundance of fabricated news stories and deep fake content scattered across the internet these days, misinformation feels inescapable. What’s worse, these deceptions are becoming more sophisticated all the time, meaning there’s a higher possibility of them causing harmful, real-world effects.

In June 2023, IELP partnered with the UW's Center for an Informed Public to bring together 19 international professionals representing 16 countries in Eastern Europe and Central Asia as part of the Distinguished Humphrey Fellowship Program, for a chance to collaborate and tackle this critical global issue.

2023 Distinguished Humphrey Fellowship Program participants

2023 Distinguished Humphrey Fellowship Program participants.

Designed to establish productive, long-lasting partnerships between Americans and international counterparts, the Distinguished Humphrey Fellowship Program is a senior-level executive and leadership program supported by the Institute of International Education and the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. This year's visit to the University of Washington focused on insights into how accomplished professionals in media, government, medicine and other fields can combat disinformation and improve digital media literacy. 

Fellows attended interactive presentations and seminars from the University of Washington’s Center for an Informed Public, followed by strategic networking placements at various host organizations across the United States and a capstone weekend at the Department of State in Washington, D.C.

A Multidisciplinary Approach

A member of parliament and family physician at Kivimae Family Medicine Center, Dr. Karmen Joller is renowned in Estonia for her constant fight against misinformation and popularizing science-based medicine. She explains that although misinformation and disinformation aren’t her specialty, she was grateful the United States Embassy invited her to be a candidate for the Distinguished Humphrey Fellowship Program because it gave her a systematic view of disinformation. 

Exchanging views with like-minded people is one of the most important things I get to do here. We must collaborate locally and nationally to be ahead of all the disinformation affecting our region.

 — Thanos Sitistas, Co-founder, Ellinika Hoaxes

“We have specialists dealing with disinformation, but they’re from different areas and don’t collaborate much. We also have volunteers who could help fight the spread of disinformation if they had the proper training,” Karmen says. “My goal is to organize our team and find training programs to help educate the public, from kids to the elderly.”

Thanos Sitistas, the co-founder of Ellinika Hoaxes, the first fact-checking organization in Greece, and founder of Greece Fact Check, was also eager to learn and collaborate with his colleagues. 

“Exchanging views with like-minded people from my cohort is probably one of the most important things I get to do here,” he says. “Disinformation has no boundaries. We must collaborate locally and nationally to cover more ground and be ahead of all the disinformation affecting our region.”

Turning Information into Action  

One of the hallmarks of the program is that it arms the Fellows with techniques to improve and expand their work. Tools that Thanos expects to pay dividends as he assists in the creation of a new fact-checking organization in Cyprus. It is the first of its kind since no established disinformation initiative exists.

“There is a lot of disinformation going back and forth across the island. So, I’m bringing people together, mostly from academia, as well as fact-checkers, to create a new organization to combat that,” he says. “Part of my activities include media literacy. I have adapted the interactive exercises and workshops I experienced during the Distinguished Humphrey Fellowship Program for audiences in Greece and Cyprus. I’ve also established long-term relationships with like-minded people, which are assisting me in my work.”

Distinguished Humphrey Fellowship Program seminar at UW

Distinguished Humphrey Fellowship Program seminar at UW.

The program also offers the Fellows access to resources and connections they didn’t know existed. Zlatko Dimitrioski, a senior researcher and policy analyst at Citizens Association MOST, an organization that fights disinformation and foreign malign influence in North Macedonia, says what he learned in the program will transform how he approaches his work. 

“Our work in North Macedonia has been reactive. We see disinformation or fake news and we respond,” he explains. “But if we apply the concept of pre-bunking I learned in the program, we can predict what kind of disinformation narratives could spread and distribute objective information beforehand to stop the spread in advance.”

“I learned new methods and engaging ways to educate people,” Karmen adds. “We participated in a misinformation escape room that can help people develop their critical thinking skills for determining when and how to share information.”

The most valuable perk of the program, however, is the opportunity to build a support team that’s only an email or phone call away. “All the speakers and hosts were polite and helpful. We’ll stay in touch with them because we’ll need them in our struggle against disinformation,” Thanos notes. “We have to combine forces to fix the world.”