In the “Misinformation Wars” – The New York Times


This suggests a weakness in the new focus on disinformation: it is a technocratic solution to a problem that is both political and technological. The new social media-fueled right-wing populists lie a lot and expand the truth more. But as American reporters interviewing Donald Trump’s fans on camera found, his audience was often involved in the joke. And a lot of the most obnoxious things he said weren’t necessarily lies – they were just deeply ugly for half the country, including most of the people who ran news organizations and universities.

It is more convenient to expect an information crisis – if we are good at something, it is information – than a political one. If only responsible journalists and technologists could explain how misguided Mr. Trump’s statements were, the citizenry would surely come round. But these well-meaning communications experts never fully understood that the people who liked him knew what was going on, laughed about it, and voted for him despite, or maybe because of, the times when he went “too far”.

Harper’s Magazine recently published a broadside against “Big Disinfo” claiming that the think tanks that raise funds to focus on the issue are offering a simple solution to a political crisis that defies simple explanation and Exaggerating the power of Facebook in a way that ultimately served Facebook above all else. The author, Joseph Bernstein, argued that the journalists and academics who specialize in exposing disinformation seem to believe they have a particular claim to truth. “As well-intentioned as these professionals are, they have no particular access to the fabric of reality,” he wrote.

In fact, I’ve found that many of the people who worry about our information diets are reassuringly humble about how far the new field of misinformation studies will take us. Ms. Donovan calls it “a new field in data journalism” but said that “this part of the field needs to get better at figuring out what is true and what is false”. The Aspen Report acknowledged “that there are no ‘arbiters of truth’ in a free society”. They are putting healthy new pressures on technology platforms to be transparent about how claims – true and false – spread.

Texas Tribune editor-in-chief Sewell Chan, a Harvard class participant, said he didn’t think the program had any political bias, adding that it “helped me understand the new forms of mischief and lying to understand that there is ”. popped up.”

“But like the term ‘fake news’, misinformation is a charged and somewhat subjective term,” he said. “I feel more comfortable with precise descriptions.”

In my own journalism I feel the push and pull of the information ecosystem as well as the temptation to evaluate an assertion according to its formal qualities – who says it and why – and not according to its substance. Last April, for example, me tweeted about what I considered sneaky about how anti-Chinese Republicans around Donald Trump were promoting the idea that Covid-19 had leaked from a laboratory. There were informative red flags in abundance. But the media criticism (and I am sorry you gotten this far into a media column to read this) has been shallow. Below the partisan scream fight was a more interesting scientific reputation fight (in which the word “misinformation” was used liberally). And the state of that story now is that scientists’ knowledge of the origins of Covid-19 is evolving and hotly debated, and we will not be able to resolve it on Twitter.


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