Building a new communication narrative during times of instability

Building a new communication narrative during times of instability

This year will be a pivotal year for democracies across the world, with more than 40% of the world's population going to the polls. Add in geopolitical pressures from the conflicts in Gaza and Ukraine, and uncertainty about the future is on the rise.

Now that the European Parliament elections have concluded, a new Commission will set the tone and agenda for the next five years. Yet the unity of the EU—and its values of democracy—are being put to the test, not least by the changing attitudes of the electorate and the disrupted media landscape from which citizens get their content.

Populist support is increasing in Europe, for several reasons. According to a recent report from IPSOS, many citizens believe that society is “broken” and that their country is in decline. A group of Europeans feel left behind and misunderstood. This is a narrative we often hear from populist parties, and which is spread via repeated, targeted, easily consumed, and shareable messaging that speaks directly to these people with the aim of winning their support. And it’s working: Austria, France, and The Netherlands, along with other countries, are leaning towards the Eurosceptic positions of the far right.

This is happening at the same time as the continued disruption of the media landscape, with people increasingly turning to unconventional sources for their information and news. These sources use algorithm-based push messages that serve to reinforce users’ opinions and beliefs. As a result, communicators face a huge challenge in effectively reaching those who feel abandoned by traditional politics and institutions such as the EU.

The job is made even harder by the incredible growth in misinformation generated by artificial intelligence (AI) in recent years. While some of this content is relatively harmless—even if it may contribute to undermining public trust overall—AI-generated “news” is a growing threat for citizen communication. For example, Newsguard, which provides “tools to counter misinformation for readers, brands, and democracies,” has identified 800 Unreliable AI-generated News and Information Sites (UAINS). And this risk is increasing due to the remarkable speed at which the technology is developing, as vividly demonstrated during ICF Next’s recent “Fake It Until You Make It” event in Brussels.

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These developments are making the battle to communicate in this new landscape even more demanding. And it’s a battle that arguably those in traditional European politics are losing at the moment. Overcoming this and reengaging citizens requires fresh thinking and a new approach to communications.

ICF Next has worked on many EU communication projects and campaigns over the years and that long experience informs our solutions to this challenge, which we’ll lay out in the next two articles in this series.

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Meet the authors
  1. Geert Stox, Head of Strategy, ICF Next

    Geert is a strategic communications and brand management expert with more than 25 years of experience in global brands, innovation, and consumer behavior. View bio

  2. Elizabeth Tapper, Senior Content Designer and Strategist