The Fifth Column
How misinformation cripples our actions
Any change in our lives, in our communities or in society at large depends on the amount and quality of information we have access to. Nowadays this is where the problem lies.
Misinformation is the Fifth Column that deliberately confuses the understanding of the problem thus compromising the solution. From public health to environmental issues, science and even democracy, misinformation is lethal.
A few people will check facts, weigh their credibility, check sources and dates; the majority will equate credibility to how closely or aligned the news is to their beliefs – and beliefs, as we know, can be manipulated.
The manufacturing of consent, and instilling of doubts to alter beliefs are techniques ordinarily used by bad or interested actors within social media to influence opinions, segregate people, and profile us so that desired products, services or beliefs find their way into our minds.
By monitoring our activities on social media and our reactions to different types of posts, at times purposely planted, they can segregate us into different user groups.
Search engines and algorithms constantly suggest content for which the user has already shown a preference. A user showing preferences for conspiracy theories will be fed with more conspiracy theories. Stupid perhaps, but there are thousands of people that believe that the earth is flat, landing on the Moon never occurred and Barack Obama was born in Kenya.
We are confronted by challenges that put our own survival at risk, like climate change, yet many groups are in denial – echo chambers where climate change is considered a hoax.
Nowadays the time spent on social media has increased exponentially and particularly so in poor and developing nations whose citizens are often most vulnerable to fake news and are easier to manipulate. How can the Amazon Forest be protected if the local population is made to believe that their economic interest is antithetical to the preservation of nature?
What to do, then, to remain sober and on alert? While we cannot ask everyone to fact check all information we have a powerful antidote to misinformation and manipulation.
We must reconnect with ourselves, pay greater attention to our senses and to how things are trying to make us feel, to our family, friends, and our communities so we can have a better understanding of information and of what is going on around us. Reconnecting with ourselves helps us combat misinformation by encouraging dialogue with people we disagree with.
We are constantly inundated with information and stimulation competing for our attention thus we must learn to give priority to what is within our circle of influence. Within this circle we can verify the information, frame the problems correctly and work to solve them. The rest is noise, anxiety and disturbance that diverts our attention.
We can also advocate for systemic change by, for example, asking social media platforms that allow spreading of news to register and be regulated as newspapers are with an editorial committee that is ultimately responsible for the information posted.
Technology and AI applications now permit a more stringent control on the content produced and automated fact checking is now a reality.
It is not about limiting freedom of expression but having people, companies, and institutions take responsibility for what they publish.
Grateful thanks to Roberto Fabbri for today’s Daily Paradox. He – and we at Terrific Mentors International – would love to hear your opinions on the problems posed by misinformation. Do drop us a line at email@example.com.
3 September 2023