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Disinformation in the Modern Age - and the Way to Deal with it.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Disinformation refers to the intentional spread of false and inaccurate information to the public.

In common language, people often call it “misinformation”, although the latter refers to unintentional spread of false information.


In modern age, I find disinformation plaguing the societies and rapidly spreading like a bush fire. Disinformers lurk in the shadows or in disguise, and operate to suppress the truth and to keep the people in the dark, or to propagate their ideology and create confusion in the general public. Some people may recognize and easily distinguish information from disinformation, but most of the people become the victims and let themselves led astray by the disinformers. With the intent of helping people combat them, and to enable them to distinguish between facts and tales, I decided to write this post.

A world of growing disinformation:

Not very long ago, reliable sources of information were easy to find. Almost every book, article, television documentary or news show (and so on) was based on proper, accurate research and a proper investigative team verified the facts that were being conveyed to the public.

With the increasing number of Mass Communication sources in the modern times, particularly through the internet, information is now available to everyone at every time, but that's where the rise of disinformation plunged in. Nowadays, everyone with an internet connection can create a website, forum or blog, and use it to deliberately spread inaccurate, false, biased, exaggerated or modified information.

Moreover, with the increase in the number of television and radio channels, a universal sense of "competition" has developed among them, often compelling them to broadcast false information deliberately, portraying baseless information as supported facts - merely to gain public attention, audience and interest.

Disinformation is therefore, ever-growing and ever-spreading in this new age. It is important for everyone to gain awareness and adopt a new approach towards all the information you find - regardless of the form of Mass Communication it is received from.

Main causes:

To put it in a nutshell, the main causes of disinformation appear to be:

1. Lack of reliable sources: As explained in detail above, sources of information are so numerous and widespread that it is difficult to validate their credibility.

2. Agendas and specific purposes: Disinformation may be created by a single person or by people, teams, agencies, organizations and the government - to intentionally mislead and misinform the public, seeking specific purposes of their own interest.

3. A public disinterest towards research and verification of acquired information: Most people do not seem to verify properly any information that reaches them. Either they are too busy and have no time, or they disregard it or consider it unimportant. This is probably the biggest factor which prevents the abolishment of disinformation.

People can be broadly classified into several degrees according to their approach on receiving disinformation.

i. Blind believers: They might receive disinformation through any mean (though totally unreliable e.g. text messages, forwarded emails etc.) and blindly believe it without bothering to confirm it.

ii. The Bandwagon effect victims: A lot of people simply believe things "because majority do" This effect also propagates disinformation.

iii. Inexperienced researchers: Some might carry out a research on the disinformation received, yet stay misinformed because of looking in the wrong places (i.e. inaccurate, confusing or misleading articles; minor websites), or by limiting their research to only one side of the story i.e. considering only the supporting or only the contradicting point of view. Such behaviour tends to mislead them. It is necessary to know both the sides of the story.

iv. The Confused: Some might know where to look and which source to trust, but they lack the knowledge needed to grasp the right facts. Absence of proper knowledge makes them confused and more liable to be the victims of disinformation.

v. Biased and hardcore type: Such behaviour usually results in irrational people or those with little knowledge. Initially after strongly supporting a viewpoint (with or without research), they maintain their wrong viewpoint and keep spreading disinformation. Rather than allowing the evidence to speak for itself, they deny it and make many innocent people victims of disinformation.

How to deal with disinformation?

Disinformation can be considerably lessened by following a new set of rules mentioned below.

1. Put an end to blind trust. If you hear someone talking of anything, or receive a text message/email containing anything controversial or uncommon, it is much too likely that the information is wrong. Do not let disinformation victimize you so easily.

2. Adopt a challenging and inquiring approach towards every controversial piece of information you receive. You should disbelieve it until you've searched it out and validated it. Start by arguing with yourself from both viewpoints, then move on and research on it.

3. During your research, demand and acquire sources and references in favour and against the viewpoints. Unsourced material must be challenged.

4. If you tend to have doubts on the sources, do verify whether the source mentioned exists or not. Also verify the credibility of the source. Nowadays many people provide false references and sources, taking it for granted that nobody would actually try to look into them.

5. Listen to both sides of the story i.e. consider both viewpoints. Limiting yourself to one would tend to convince you towards that side. Remember, disinformfers are very skilled in twisting and manipulating the facts to make them appear convincing.

6. Be open-minded and consider various viewpoints, including those that contradict yours. Avoid being biased towards one viewpoint if you want to find the truth.

7. At the end of your research, you will have gathered enough information to make an educated guess. Yet if you have doubts or confusions, you'd better consult specialists of the topics and see what they have to say.

8. When you've reached the conclusion and found the truth, don't keep it to you. Spread it and compel others to do so. Disinformation must be combated and it is necessary for every person to cooperate.

A few tips to identify disinformfers & disinformation:

1. Disinformers usually have an air of wild accusations and rumour.

2. They avoid discussing the key issues and focus on side issues.

3. They try to make themselves look good and the opponent look bad. Such things tend to rob the belief of people on their opponents and hence, the truth is suppressed.

4. When questioned, a disinformer usually deals the matter with disregard, or even hostility. A true person tends to be helpful and tries to explain and propagate the truth.

5. Disinformers usually show a lack of scientific and logical arguments and references, or provide wrong ones.

6. The twist and amplify facts of their opponents to make them appear untrue.

7. They attempt to fit the facts to alternate conclusions.

8. They try to emotionalize the people and appeal to their feelings, preventing the people from believing in the true side of the story.

9. They ignore the proofs presented or demand an impossible proof.

10. A lot of them follow the rules of calculated omission - removing a piece of news to make a lie appear rational.

The final words:

Disinformers are numerous and widespread, and ever increasing. A large number of companies and organizations are reported to have hired people to spread disinformation online for their agendas. They pop up in forums, post misleading comments and so on. On the other hand, bigger pieces of disinformation are spread by television, radio and internet directly.

It is necessary for all of us to be aware of their tactics and to recognize them. Whether they want to seek audience, divert people's attention from something else, bring about a specific purpose or simply want entertainment or chaos, they should be discouraged. They do not mean well and we should not let their purpose come true.
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