Go Back

The Disinformation of Age

June 7, 2022

The mass adoption of new communication technologies that, to their very core, are designed not to inform or guide well, but solely to indiscriminately proliferate any content so as to capture more attention longer has backfired. This new technology is called 'social media' and it has effectively become the information diet and GPS of most people's lives, by choice or default.

"Democracies around the world face rising levels of disinformation. The intentional spread of falsehoods and related attacks on the rights of minorities, press freedoms, and the rule of law all challenge the basic norms and values on which institutional legitimacy and political stability depend."

Trust levels in governments, institutions, news outlets, and businesses have been in utter freefall for the last decade. Some of this erosion is explained by years of lying about the Vietnam War, followed four decades later by the lies supporting the disastrous invasion of Iraq in 2003. Moreover, some of it can be explained by the corporate estate that has been superiorly organized over ever large time horizons and thus multiple administrations, resulting in new and more sophisticated tactics. Governments, which operate at much shorter time horizons and at a much slower pace correspondingly fail to keep up and inoculate themselves. But perhaps a trend bigger than the two mentioned previously is the proliferation of new communication technologies that disseminate a greater range of questionable sources than ever before.

Unhinged from evidence, reason, and credible sources, the study of disinformation and networked propaganda is becoming a central interest necessary to circumvent catastrophe. What errors in the past gave rise to the problems we inherited today. First, the prevailing optimism at the turn of the century gave credence to the idea that innovation would be somehow much more likely to enhance our individual lives and democracies, instead of posing a danger to them.

Thus secondly, this optimism led to the underestimation of the two-sidedness of change; new technologies always come as double-edged swords. Virality favours de-contextualised, false, and emotional messaging. As people are inclined to confirm their pre-existing beliefs. An order of magnitude increase in the diversity of information sources did not lead to the most accurate facts being more easily found, but rather information with the resonating underlying emotional truths to be more easily exchanged. With every hyperlink these new communication technologies massively fragmented individuals and their information channels. Sharply pivoting away from what is known as the 'water cooler effect' where individuals would come together and get their information from a similar source and discuss. Contrary to the omnipresent inclination that more supply leads inevitably to individuals being better able to make the best choice for themselves, it is by now indisputable that the proliferation of information channels has counterproductively led to more inaccurate, and not accurate, information to be chosen by netizens.

Third, digital visionaries proclaimed that with the rise of free services, user-generated content, open-source, and democratic mechanisms inherent to the web, the internet would inherently be immunized against centralized power, monopoly, surveillance, and control. It did not. Neoliberal policies allowed for the emergence of unheard-of consolidated power, facilitating new platform monopolies that eventually attained such monstrous scales that inequality has reached levels reminiscent of the Gilded Age.