Visiting journalist details disinformation, war in Ukraine during lecture


Max Scheinblum, Staff Writer

DURHAM – University of New Hampshire (UNH) alumnus Eliza Mackintosh, class of ‘12, returned to campus on Wednesday, April 13 as this year’s Donald M. Murray Visiting Journalist. Mackintosh, a London-based senior producer for CNN International, has recently reported on social media disinformation campaigns, and gave an evening talk detailing the “new gatekeepers” of the news industry. 

“Twitter, Google, YouTube, Instagram and Facebook have become the new gatekeepers of news and information,” she said. “[They are] arbiters of free speech, enablers of disinformation, campaign censorship, harassment, hate speech and inciting violence.” 

Mackintosh pointed to the presidency of Donald Trump as the turning point of social media-perpetuated distrust in journalism. His popularizing of the term “fake news” has given rise to authoritarian leaders across the globe undermining free press, according to Mackintosh. 

She has experienced this erosion of trust firsthand through reporting ventures in Ethiopia and more recently Ukraine, where she had spent three weeks prior to coming to UNH. She noted the Ethiopian government’s use of Facebook to pump out inflammatory content and continue inciting violence. 

“One document said that armed groups in Ethiopia were using the platform to incite violence against ethnic minorities in the context of civil war,” she said, referencing the leaked Facebook Papers. “Fact checkers working in the country told me that in response to abusive and hateful posts that they had flagged for removal, Facebook’s only response was ‘could you please translate this for us?’” 

Mackintosh also described the use of Russian propaganda before and during the country’s invasion of Ukraine. She recalled a Ukrainian journalist held captive by the Russian army and implored to “objectively report on the utopian reality that they were creating.” She also reported on several people who had disappeared in Ukraine’s east, prompting Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov to falsely claim that “CNN can hardly be called an objective source of information.” 

Fortunately, Mackintosh also made note of successes in the fight against mis- and disinformation. 

“In conversations with sources in the European Union and the U.S. State Department, as well as various experts in this field, Finland kept coming up time and time again as an example of how we can counter this threat,” Mackintosh said. 

This is due to the country emphasizing critical thinking and media literacy skills from as early as the age of five. Mackintosh said Finland’s efforts thwarted several Russian disinformation attempts following the annexation of Crimea in 2014. She also noted the effort has been adopted unilaterally across the country, and other nations have modeled their own anti-disinformation campaigns after Finland as well. 

While a student at UNH, Mackintosh served as the editor-in-chief of Main St. Magazine and was a member of the track and field team. She also completed several internships during this time, including at the Washington Post’s London office, where she worked as a Special Correspondent for her first year after graduation. 

In 2014, she returned to the United States to work for Storyful, a New York City-based social media intelligence agency. She remained stateside for two years, eventually returning to the United Kingdom with her current company, CNN, in November 2016. During her nearly six years with the media titan, Mackintosh has earned acclaim for work on key disinformation campaigns, including the aforementioned wars in Ethiopia and Ukraine. She also started CNN’s award-winning COVID-19 daily newsletter and has been involved in several other renowned investigations.