Why is disinformation so pervasive and what can we do about it?

Key words: information, disinformation, truth, fake news, media, internet

Distortion of the truth, giving it a spin or angle, has been going on through all of history. But, it has never been so easy to spread misinformation and lies, widely and quickly, as is possible in the age of the Internet.

➡️ Backstory: Governments, organisations and individuals are flooding the world’s media with disinformation or malicious content. Writing in The Conversation, Matthieu O’Neil points out that the goal is profit or gaining a strategic advantage. Why has this come about?

✅ Here are the take home messages that O’Neil gives us.

➡️ Main idea: 3 possible reasons can account for this situation.

  1. The mainstream media has lost its credibility. People distrust these traditional sources of authority and are quick to latch onto poorly substantiated reports.
  2. Social media, the dominant tool for misinformation, focuses on engagement rather than the truth. They promote shocking claims and news that generate anger. There is little attempt at verifying the truth.
    Studies show that “fake news” spread further, faster and deeper than the truth.
  3. Disinformation tactics are deliberately engineered by agencies with the intent of creating disruption and polarisation in society. Subtle, subversive propaganda is pushed without being overtly false.

➡️ Call to action: O’Neil suggests Wikipedia as a single, most easily accessible tool for protecting ourselves. When you come across a dubious claim, open Wikipedia and check.

There are many other sites on the web that specifically combat this problem. Search Google using this term: “fact checking sites” for some popular utilities.

Read the article.

This tyrant now rules the world: our screens

Key words: screen, device, attention, mind, productivity, entertainment, creativity

A restaurant, a waiting lounge, a family dinner: chances are that most people in front of you will be looking at a screen. Mobile phone, tablet, laptop: they grab our attention and hold it in a vice-like grip. The “Feeds”, and the algorithms that drive them, have taken over our minds and our ability to think independently.

In an article in the blog, Infinite Play, Nat Eliason writes about “The locus of entertainment.” He says that avoiding contact with other people and burying ourselves in our own sources of pleasure is not new. We read books and newspapers while traveling in a train or plane. But, something has changed in a major fashion. The locus of entertainment, according to Eliason, has been slowly wrested from within our own choosing and dropped onto our all-pervasive screens.

Here are the take home messages that I got from this article.

➡️ Backstory: “Screenworld”. We have given up the power to chose for the false luxury of endless choices. Eliason calls this the “screen world.”

➡️ Main idea: “Entertainment muscle atrophy.” Entertainment, until the advent of the Internet, was something we generated. Writing, music, painting, and the performing arts are some common examples.

Today, entertainment has become something that is generated for us. A complex web of data, obtained from our browsing, is mined with powerful tools. Algorithms control the list of choices on offer. Manipulations are made that are well beyond our cognitive capacity. Free will no longer exists.

We surrender totally. As couch potatoes, our “entertainment muscles atrophy.”

🔴 Eliason warns us that it is a very short, slippery road to “depression, addiction, and asociality.”

➡️ Call to action: Take back control.

There is a solution, Eliason adds, but it is not an easy one. You have to become the master of your devices; take charge of creating your own entertainment. You have to use these tools to build up your internally generated sources of entertainment. The apps and software available today are wide-ranging and powerful. We have never had so much power for creativity and innovation.

In a single sentence, Eliason’s recommendation would be: Switch from being a consumer to being a creator.

Read the article.