Note — Aug 25, 2019

Misinformation Has Created a New World Disorder

Seen in → No.91

Source →

At Scientific American, Claire Wardle explains how misinformation is rampant and why we should focus on the deeper systemic causes instead of mostly focusing on what big tech has done or not done. Goes through seven “information disorders,” what they are, how they differ, and how they are being used. Oh and, entirely unexpectedly (again!), in many cases the media makes things worse by sticking to their traditional way of reporting on misleading content.

[W]hat social scientists and propagandists have long known: that humans are wired to respond to emotional triggers and share misinformation if it reinforces existing beliefs and prejudices. Instead designers of the social platforms fervently believed that connection would drive tolerance and counteract hate. They failed to see how technology would not change who we are fundamentally—it could only map onto existing human characteristics. […]

But this fixation [on tech] is too simplistic. A complex web of societal shifts is making people more susceptible to misinformation and conspiracy. […]
Research has found that traditionally reporting on misleading content can potentially cause more harm. Our brains are wired to rely on heuristics, or mental shortcuts, to help us judge credibility. As a result, repetition and familiarity are two of the most effective mechanisms for ingraining misleading narratives, even when viewers have received contextual information explaining why they should know a narrative is not true. […]
When the Facebook archive of Russian-generated memes was released, some of the commentary at the time centered on the lack of sophistication of the memes and their impact. But research has shown that when people are fearful, oversimplified narratives, conspiratorial explanation, and messages that demonize others become far more effective. These memes did just-enough to drive people to click the share button.

Further reading: Media Manipulation, Strategic Amplification, and Responsible Journalism and Agnotology and Epistemological Fragmentation, both by danah boyd.