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Posts Tagged ‘disinformation

The thoughts and article in the tweet below are not mainstream fodder. However, they are important and nuanced examinations of current socio-technical issues.

This is just one of many issues that are central or adjacent to education. 

Parents and teachers need to know how representatives of popular media do not often read or represent research articles to inform accurately. They wish to sell their brands and to keep eyeballs on their pages.

They stoke fear and worry because they know that this works in the short term. Paying attention to possible dangers is a built-in survival strategy. But the long-term effect of using this strategy is that it is purely reactionary. 

We need to be better than this. We need to be nuanced, critical, and reflective.

Video source

The video above is about how mistrust for the SARS-CoV2 vaccine grows. I highlight a late segment with an educator’s point of view.

A paediatric group created its own communications department to educate its stakeholders and to counter misinformation and disinformation about COVID-19 and vaccines. It did this because lives and reputations were at stake.

Educators need to adopt a similar mindset as well. It is not enough to just keep our heads down and toil away. We need to speak up against bad ideas, policies, or practices. We need to share our ideas and resources openly and freely.

In our case, lives and reputations are also at stake, but seemingly not as urgently and not as obviously. Educators deal primarily with infodemics not epidemics. If we do not fight against bad ideas like learning styles, ill-informed policies like online proctored exams, or practices like e-doing instead of e-learning, then we passively enable them.

The epidemic lockdowns raised our collective profiles and reputations. Instead of returning to a normal of unseen educator work, we need to rise up and share. We do this to maintain or raise our reputations as knowledge workers. We do this to beat back the infodemic.

Last year I consumed lots of news about the state of politics in the USA. Some journalists would urge viewers to believe what they see in order to not be misled.


Video source

Misinformation and disinformation distort like visual illusions. The video above provides insights into why we need to take that call cautiously. We cannot always believe what we see because our vision is easy to trick.

We need to rely on our mind’s eye, i.e., critical thinking. This is not to be confused with criticising which can be closed and cynical. Being critical is about being open and analytical.

Our actual vision can be fooled because it is a function of biology and physics. Our mindful vision can be developed to be broad and deep enough to spot the illusions of misinformation and disinformation.

The disease that is COVID-19 will eventually recede, but the disease of disinformation will persist long after. So how might be deal with the latter?


Video source

The video above suggests we might inoculate ourselves against disinformation. The overall strategy: Know thy enemy. That is, learn how trolls and spreaders of disinformation operate. If we know this, we spot patterns and stop the spread by not clicking or tapping on the share button.


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The first five minutes of this news video was a critique of Trump’s attempt to mislead with disinformation.

Twitter and Facebook blocked Trump’s attempt to share a clip in which he reportedly said that “children are almost – and I would almost say definitely – almost immune from this disease”. The news folk pushed back with corrections, but slipped as they did so.

The news anchor said that Twitter and Facebook had blocked Trump’s misinformation. The claim that children are “almost immune from the disease” is disinformation, not misinformation. It was a deliberate attempt to convince parents that it is safe to send their kids to school so that the parents can get back to work.

Misinformation might be a result of early and incomplete fact-finding. It could also be a result of unclear or ambiguous phrasing. Disinformation flies in the face of facts. Being immune to the SARS-CoV-2 virus means your body can fight it off. It does not mean that you cannot transmit it. Immune persons can still transmit the virus they are not hygienic and do not maintain physical distance.

The reporter on the ground said that “precision is so important when you are talking about peoples’ health”. Being precise is not the same as being accurate.

Accuracy is about hitting the target, i.e., getting the facts right. Precision is about being consistent. It is important to be accurate first and then precise with explanations and elaborations. If you are not accurate first, it is still possible to be precisely wrong.

This is not a game of semantics. This is about being scientifically literate. This means getting information from reputable and reliable sources, and using accurate and precise language to communicate these findings.

News agencies can be a good source of information, but they are not necessarily halls of information and scientific literacy. It is up to teachers and educators to first develop these skill and mind sets, and then model and teach these to students.

A recent tweet from Malala Yousafzai gave me pause to reflect.

Here is a challenge: Ask any one in a local school how students are prepared to deal with misinformation and disinformation. You might be told that there are “cyber wellness” programmes or that information literacy is built into curricula.

But this is the rub. Misinformation and disinformation are not just cognitive challenges. They are emotional ones too. The video in the tweet highlights how they might very well be emotional challenges first.

The programmes and curricula might try to prepare the head. But how do they attempt to prepare the heart?

It is easy for me to ignore messages on Facebook, WhatsApp, and even email.

I have not posted on Facebook for years. I refuse to feed it data for its questionable algorithms. I use Facebook like a passport — for the rare occasion I need to prove my identity.

My byline in WhatsApp is “I’m not deaf, I’m ignoring you” and I share a link to what I think is WhatsApp-tiquette. I leave groups or mute individuals that are noisy or pointless.

My WhatsApp byline.

Both Facebook and WhatsApp are full of navel gazing and misinformation even if I know the people there. These platforms become too porous when those same people share information without filters or critical thought.

Then there is email which is essential for work. On that I set strict filtering rules. One particularly effective strategy is filtering out email with too many recipients in the TO or CC header.

If this means I miss a few messages, then so be it. If there are that many people on a single email, it was probably not important or directed at me. It is also the best way to avoid spam.

It is not just easy to ignore messages on Facebook, WhatsApp, and email. I find it to be essential. Just as we self-quarantine to keep our bodies safe from the current pandemic, I ignore noise, misinformation, and disinformation during the concurrent “infodemic”.

… of misinformation and disinformation about COVID-19.


Video source

Like the coronavirus, such “alternative facts” are insidious and easy to distribute. Unlike the coronavirus, this disease infects the thinking and belief systems of its victims.

Has the story been reported anywhere else? Is it from a reliable source? Has the photo or image been taken out of context?

There is no known cure for either. But we do have treatments for symptoms. They range from simple heuristics like the one presented in the video (screenshot above) to agencies offering frameworks (e.g., NLB’s SURE) to courses on media literacy (e.g., Crash Course YouTube playlist).

A primary source of news, newspapers printed or online, propagated a subjective phrase — fake news.

“Fake news” does not mean the same thing to different people. To politicians like Trump, fake news can be any legitimate, well-researched, or accurate report he does not agree with.

To others, fake news might be misinformation and disinformation. This source provides a handy distinction:

Misinformation is false information that’s given without malice, and disinformation is false information, such as government propaganda, that’s given with the intention to deceive.

Using the current 2019-nCoV scare as context, misinformation might be about how ordinary masks might protect you from infection. The mask is actually meant to reduce transmission, not stop reception.

Disinformation might be unconfirmed “news” of mask shortage or infected zones. These are meant to create worry or panic.

The terms “misinformation” and “disinformation” are more precise. They communicate meaning and educate us. The phrase “fake news” is lazy and subjective. The fact that a newspaper is propagating it is bad news.

If we are going to teach ourselves and our students how to identify fake news or other sources of disinformation, then we should know what rules their creators use.

This video by the New York Times identified the Seven Commandments of Fake News by deconstructing notable examples of disinformation.


Video source

The seven rules were:

  1. Find the cracks (the rifts or sore points in society)
  2. Create a big lie (so outrageous that it is almost too hard to believe)
  3. Wrap the lie around some truth (to create believability)
  4. Conceal your hand (make it seem like it came from someone else)
  5. Find useful idiots (to spread the fake news)
  6. Deny everything (when found out)
  7. Play the long game (the impact is not always immediate)

Now those seven rules were created in the pre-Internet era. Today the effectiveness of any of the seven is exacerbated by the breadth and speed of spreading disinformation.

So what is an ordinary person to do?

One expert in the video said: Question more, answer less. I suggest: Question more, retweet or repost less (or not at all). Wheezy Waiter, a YouTube I follow, pointed out that a headline is not an article.


Video source

One way to question more is to read, watch, listen, or otherwise sense more, and then to reflect on what we process. There are no shortcuts; it takes work.


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