“Le secret de la liberté est d’éclairer les hommes, comme celui de la tyrannie et de les retenir dans l’ignorance.” —Maximilien Robespierre (1758 – 1794)
Translation: “The secret of freedom lies in educating people, whereas the secret of tyranny is in keeping them ignorant.”
Is there more ‘fake news’ today than in previous decades, especially before the web? I think there is probably more only because there are more sources of information. It used to be that you bought a newspaper to get some depth of reporting, complete with advertisements, or watched television to get ‘up-to-the-minute’ news. Of course it was all edited and curated. As time goes on we find out many of the truths we were told in the past were ‘well-massaged’ by the power elites. But if we are in a post-truth moment then we need to understand the tools we have at hand to deal with falsehoods.
Tom Dickinson describes four different types of distributed ‘fake news’.
‘Fake news’ is lazy language. Be specific. Do you mean:
C) Conspiracy theory
Propaganda: “Information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote a political cause or point of view.” —Oxford Dictionaries
The RAND Corporation, a US think-tank with strong ties to the military industrial complex, recently looked at the influence of the Russian Propaganda Model and how best to deal with it.
Three factors have been shown to increase the (limited) effectiveness of retractions and refutations: (1) warnings at the time of initial exposure to misinformation, (2) repetition of the retraction or refutation, and (3) corrections that provide an alternative story to help fill the resulting gap in understanding when false ‘facts’ are removed.
This report goes on to show how to preempt propaganda through forewarning.
Forewarning is perhaps more effective than retractions or refutation of propaganda that has already been received. The research suggests two possible avenues:
Propagandists gain advantage by offering the first impression, which is hard to overcome. If, however, potential audiences have already been primed with correct information, the disinformation finds itself in the same role as a retraction or refutation: disadvantaged relative to what is already known.
When people resist persuasion or influence, that act reinforces their preexisting beliefs. It may be more productive to highlight the ways in which Russian propagandists attempt to manipulate audiences, rather than fighting the specific manipulations.
This is good advice for all of us, in any organization, or as citizens in aspiring democracies [they are all just aspiring]. Education on the nature of disinformation is essential. This is what new media literacy should focus on, not just understanding the tools and platforms.
Critical thinking requires us to constantly question assumptions, especially our own. To develop these skills, questioning must be encouraged. This runs counter to most schooling and training practices. When do students or employees get to question underlying assumptions of their institutions? If they cannot do this, how can we expect them to challenge various and pervasive types of ‘fake news’? The elites cannot have it both ways. They cannot have an educated and also compliant workforce, consumer base, or citizenry. But then do those in charge of our institutions really want an educated populace?
Real freedom lies in the people taking control of their own education. It’s not easy and it’s hard work.