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Posts Tagged ‘misinformation

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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.

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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.

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The TED-Ed video used the tongue taste map as an example of how easily misinformation spreads.

The misinformation that is still propagated today in classrooms is that the tongue has specific zones for tasting sweet, sour, salty, and bitter substances. These zones do not exist.

Why does this and other misinformation spread and persist? The video outlines a few reason why. One is the human tendency to simplify and to desire simplicity.

The first is the need to conceptualise, which is not wrong in itself. That is one way we learn from multiple experiences — we boil things down to a manageable nugget.

The second can be a problem. The simplest answer is not always the right one if it reject nuance or questions.

This is why the video offers one reliable weapon to fight misinformation — skepticism. This is not an outright rejection of an idea. It is the cautious circling and examination of it in order to determine its value.

Video source

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.

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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).

I enjoy watching YouTube clips of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert because the show is smart and uses humour to disarm and inform.

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However, it is not perfect. While I enjoyed the ridicule flung at apparently how beards might interfere with face masks, my Spidey sense tingled.

Science Alert confirmed my suspicions. The graphic that was real and from the CDC in the USA. It was created in 2017 as part of a series on workplace safety. It was not created to provide advice on what sort of facial hair might interfere with masks people might wear in response to COVID-19.

In any case, masks do not prevent reception of infected droplets. They reduce transmission, e.g., our coughs or sneezes.

The Late Show’s joke was a form of misinformation because there was no intended malice. But it was misinformation transmitted to many viewers of television and YouTube in the name of entertainment.

At best, this is a teachable moment. At worst, more will prefer the entertainment or ignorance than a valuable lesson on fact-checking.

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.

I know people who do not like to use “fake news” because Trump uses the phrase and has bent its meaning beyond logic. According to Agent Orange, fake news is anything that he disagrees with. His feelings and opinions trump logic and facts.

Instead some prefer to use misinformation and disinformation.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines misinformation simply as “incorrect or misleading information”.

The same dictionary defines disinformation as “false information deliberately and often covertly spread (as by the planting of rumours) in order to influence public opinion or obscure the truth”.

The fine line between them seems to be the intent of the holder of the information. Merriam-Webster focuses on the deliberateness of spreading of such information.

Over at Quora, a writer distinguishes the two by focusing on what the holder of information believes or knows: If the holder believes the false information is true, it is misinformation; if the holder knows that the false information is false, it is spreading disinformation.

The nuance is important if one is to solve a problem without becoming part of it. For example, you might be focusing on critical information literacy and choose not to promote the careless use of “fake news”.

Fake news can be an empty phrase while misinformation and disinformation include intent. That nuance creates meaning upon which you can build critical discourse.


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