Round table: Can we create humanitarian space online?
Understanding and tackling the harmful effects of the ‘information disorder’ in humanitarian contexts.


Although false rumours and propaganda have been with us throughout history, the astounding scale and speed of social media has meant that misinformation, disinformation and hate speech have become widespread in online environments world-wide. The organisation First Draft explains it like this: “Information disorder refers to the many ways our information environment is polluted. The term ‘fake news’ doesn’t begin to cover all of this. Most of this content isn’t even fake; it’s often genuine, used out of context and weaponized by people who know that falsehoods based on a kernel of truth are more likely to be believed and shared.”  The information disorder covers the spectrum of mis, disinformation and malinformation (true information shared in a misleading way).

Humanitarian contexts are particularly prone to chaotic information environments, characterized by an environment of mistrust towards those who hold power (the authorities, but also elites, and aid agencies too).  Humanitarian agencies are now looking at how the ‘information disorder’ is affecting people who live in contexts of war and violence. These are exactly where systemic, collective, and individual resilience to these risks and threats are the lowest, and where the likelihood and potential for devastating consequences is the highest.

The purpose of this roundtable is to better understand what effect mis, disinformation and hate speech online are having on humanitarian contexts, and to identify strategies to tackle this; and to start thinking about what role humanitarians could play in creating safe and protective spaces online.


Setting the scene: The roundtable moderator will kick off with a few introductory questions to the speakers, to start seeding the discussion and to get to the heart of the ‘hot topics.’ In parallel, on the chat, people will be invited to add points, make observations, and add their experiences.

Think-In: The next hour will be in the format of a ‘Think In’ – no questions but rather a ‘curated discussion.’ Comments and points will be solicited online from the participants to explore the issue from different angles. The idea is to get away from the traditional Q&A and rather, build on each other’s ideas and experience.


This roundtable will aim to engage a wide audience, from students to practitioners and academics. It will aim to collectively ‘build knowledge’ by pooling comments and observations from the audience, with the speakers as key contributors. It could be compared to a kind of online ‘fishbowl’ discussion, with participants contributing to the session.

Speaker Bios

Delphine van Solinge has been working at the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) since 2004. In her current position as adviser on digital risks in armed conflicts, she looks at how technologies can become a source of harm for affected people. Before taking this role, she worked as Protection Coordinator in Chad, the Philippines, Afghanistan, and Colombia and as Head of Unit for Global Protection Affairs in Geneva. Before joining the ICRC, she worked with different NGOs in Africa.

Stijn Aelbers is Internews’ Senior Humanitarian Advisor – formerly working for the Belgian public broadcaster as a radio news journalist, he has worked for UNFPA in Uganda  and has joined Internews in 2013 to help set up, coordinate and mentor the humanitarian programmes across the world. From setting up an Emergency Radio Station in the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan, to coordinating the Ebola-programmes in Liberia and Guinea, advising the CCCM cluster in South and setting up Rumour Tracking projects in, among other places, the Mediterranean Refugee Response, Nepal, Haiti, DRC, and Bangladesh. He’s a focal point for the Internews Information Ecosystem Assessments, supports the Signpost Network targeting people on the move and is an active member of the H2H-Network, CDAC-Network and IASC RG 2 on Inclusion & accountability.

Sean Healy is currently the Head of Reflection and Analysis for Médecins Sans Frontières’ Operational Centre Amsterdam, in which capacity he coordinates and conducts research into global challenges facing humanitarians. A particular focus has been on MSF’s relationships with the societies it works in, including communities, local civil society actors, and health authorities. He was previously the agency’s Access Adviser, supporting negotiations efforts in Syria, Somalia, and Myanmar, among others. He was worked in a variety of other capacities in both field and headquarters since joining MSF in 2002.


Sandrine Tiller joined Médecins Sans Frontières in 2011 and is currently leading a ‘reflection/action’ project to better understand and address Mis and Disinformation in MSF’s Operations. She has previously worked with grassroots organisations in Venezuela, UN Volunteers in Eritrea and Tanzania, the British Red Cross in London, and the ICRC in Israel/Occupied Palestinian Territories, Lebanon, and Geneva.

Background Papers

Date and Time

3 November 2021
09.00 – 10.30 CET
Room 15