Not only is there a lot of junk online — Sturgeon’s Law states that 90% of everything is crap — but there are active measures against our democracies to promote propaganda and disinformation. It’s not just the Russian troll factories either, but organizations like those funded by the Koch brothers in the USA.
• Hillsdale [College] is a conservative Christian institution with ties to the Trump administration. And the scholars behind the academy — Scott Atlas, Jay Bhattacharya, and Martin Kulldorff — are connected to right-wing dark money attacking public health measures.
• in March 2021, the dark money fund DonorsTrust spent nearly $800,000 to spread the narrative that the pandemic’s toll was actually due to government interventions
• In June, Mercatus Center, a libertarian think tank at George Mason University heavily funded by the Koch network, began funding a database run by Emily Oster, an economist who has argued that the drawbacks of school closures outweigh the risks of COVID-19 exposure.
• the Foundation for Economic Education, another Koch-funded nonprofit, claimed that “naive government interventions” were responsible for a rise in global malaria cases and a spike in worldwide poverty.
• Such anti-public health intervention narratives have had a lasting impact.
“Remember kids: You can’t fight disinformation if you don’t know what bullshit is being spread.” —Justin Ling
Agnotology is “the strategic and purposeful production of ignorance”. This type of coordinated disinformation is part of the array of post-truth machines that face us today. We can try to ‘pre-bunk‘ this disinformation but it’s like a never-ending game of whack-a-mole. George Lakoff states that whoever frames the narrative first has an advantage and that negating a frame only activates and strengthens it.
One way of ‘framing first’ is modelling better, truthful, democratic, self-doubting behaviours. Robert Graves’ In Broken Images (1895) shows the power of doubting.
He is quick, thinking in clear images;
I am slow, thinking in broken images.
He becomes dull, trusting to his clear images;
I become sharp, mistrusting my broken images.
Trusting his images, he assumes their relevance;
Mistrusting my images, I question their relevance.
Assuming their relevance, he assumes the fact;
Questioning their relevance, I question the fact.
When the fact fails him, he questions his senses;
When the fact fails me, I approve my senses.
He continues quick and dull in his clear images;
I continue slow and sharp in my broken images.
He in a new confusion of his understanding;
I in a new understanding of my confusion.
An example of modeling change was shared by Isabel Jordan showing that the hard decisions are often the right ones. Isabel refused to go along with the flawed assumptions that the pandemic is over and it is now safe to remove public health measures. Isabel, who identifies as a vulnerable person, resigned as a health conference organizer. It’s hard to go against the crowd, especially one composed of so many ‘experts’.
The decision was made some time ago to shift into an in-person conference with no hybrid version. At the time, there were still mask requirements in our province. When these requirements were dropped, I brought up at meetings and through emails the importance of keeping mask requirements at a health care conference — especially one that welcomed and purported to create an inclusive, barrier-free environment for patient partners attending. When it became clear last week that this accommodation could not be made, I had to make the decision that I could not attend in order to keep both myself and my family safe and made the further decision to resign from the steering committee.
We are in an information war — one that pits logic and emotion against each other. Two powerful weapons used against us by the social media algorithms are ‘Likes’ and ‘Shares’. To counter these influences, we each have a more powerful weapon — our own commentary. This is the power of blogs. With all the hype over social media and $45B buy-outs, we have forgotten how much influence a single blog, in a network of peers, can have.
I keep thinking I should write another book.
I keep thinking I should write poetry.
In the meantime, without any should, I blog.
I am a blogger.
That should be enough.
Writing a blog can be an important sense-making tool and is core to my personal knowledge mastery discipline. PKM and blogging are ways to model the behaviours of an engaged citizen of the world and counter the platform monopolists and forces of agnotology.