A weekly-ish newsletter about seeing clearly in an age of reality distortion — e.g. perception control, superhuman manipulation, misinformation, merchants of doubt, truth decay, deepfakes, dark ads, ads, PR, propaganda, self-delusion, and the collapse of our information ecosystem.
I didn’t expect RDF° Report #1 to be a themed issue. 3 weeks and 1 day into lockdown, that’s where we are. Pandemic will do that.
Pandemic, you see, does not ride alone. At its side is its fellow horseman, Infodemic.
MINISTRY OF INFODEMICS
We’re not just fighting an epidemic; we’re fighting an infodemic.
— WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, at the Munich Security Conference, February 15.
This is the type of environment in which false and misleading information thrives and spreads quickly. People are vulnerable. People are afraid. People don't know what to believe.
Just as proximity spreads pandemics, information density spreads infodemics. We are all glued to the news and social media, consuming and sharing more than ever, as seen in the traffic spikes for Facebook and Twitter.
Also not helping: the blurring of fact and opinion. It’s all a wicked brew online.
COVID-19 related misinfo can be grouped into three major buckets:
Bad health claims
Trivialization of the situation
Politicization —using the crisis to wage other battles
… according to Ingrid Brodnig, Austrian author of Lügen im Netz ( Lies on the Internet). (Euractive)
The last two factors are particularly in play in the US right-wing news ecosystem. (New York Times)
The current Russian COVID-19-related disinformation campaign, designed to generate panic and sow distrust in the West, could backfire at home. Russians are also vulnerable to health-related fake news — the last thing you want when you’re trying to fight off a pandemic inside your own borders. (Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists).
The truth is not out there. Politicians worldwide are promoting the false conspiracy theory that the coronavirus is a bioweapon. (Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists).
Though we all know COVID-19 started in a US-funded lab in Tbilisi, Georgia. (Coda)
COVID-19 misinformation dashboards, courtesy of the Ryerson Social Media Lab. I wouldn’t have been able to find this gem without them:
Whew. We should all self-isolate from social media for two weeks.
COVID-19 reminds us of our responsibility as stewards of the public health, of our neighbors near and far.
“We’re all responsible for reducing our own risk of infection, and if we’re infected, for reducing our risk of infecting others. There’s something all of us can do to protect vulnerable people in our communities. That’s why we keep talking about solidarity. This is not just a threat for individual people or individual countries. We’re all in this together, and we can only save lives together.”
-Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO
We have the same obligation as stewards of the information ecosphere.
What does Information Stewardship mean, exactly?
At the core, it means considering the health of others, and the health of the ecosphere, when we speak online or off.
We need to consider the systemic impact of our daily decisions. Which we should be doing in all aspects of our lives. Not our strong suit generally, as people or companies.
In the coming weeks we’ll discuss how we can be better stewards, as individuals, communities, companies and institutions.
In the meantime, cover your cough online.
Like Borges’ Library of Babel, which contains every book ever written, and every book that could be written, Twitter contains everything that is true, and everything that is false. (Well more the latter than the former).
If you haven’t already, please subscribe:
A breakdown of the kinds of actors in the COVID-19 infodemic (Foreign Policy Research Institute).
THE 12TH LAW OF RDF°
If misinformation is more profitable than information, we’re f*ed.
Just as some people are more or less vulnerable to disease, some countries may be more vulnerable to misinformation, writes researcher Edda Humprecht, of the Department of Mass Communication and Media Research at the University of Zurich. (paper)
Humprecht and her colleagues identified seven underlying conditions that compromise a country’s misinformation immune system:
the profitability of misinformation
distrust of news media
weak public media
a larger percentage of social media users
little overlap in the news sources people consume
The US is particularly vulnerable with its low trust, politicized and fragmented environment.
Bad news in a time of pandemic. As Laura Kahn, author of One Health and the Politics of Antimicrobial Resistance, presciently wrote on January 28, 2019:
Imagine the chaos that could ensue if the United States were confronted with an actual crisis caused by outside forces, such as an influenza pandemic or bioterrorist attack. With so little trust in government, and eroding trust in science due to false information — sometimes peddled by those in power themselves — America is vulnerable. Distrust, unfortunately, makes it difficult to prevent, prepare for, or recover from a major public health emergency.
One country to learn from: Taiwan. Taiwan is successfully resisting China’s COVID-19 misinformation campaign. Being locked in an existential battle with China, fighting off Chinese misinformation campaigns, has built up Taiwan’s immune system.
Yi-Ting Lien, writing for The Diplomat, discusses three major factors for Taiwan’s resilience:
The Taiwanese government’s high level of transparency and responsiveness
High civic engagement by citizens, NGOs, and companies
Vigilance against propaganda both by government agencies and the general public
We (the US) have our work cut out for us.
The year is 2023.
Apple introduce the iMask. N95, coronavirus-proof.
Never look creepy wearing a mask again! A retina display covers the entire exterior of the mask. Your bright, smiling mug is displayed to every passerby that passes you by. Even — especially — if you’re scowling or sad with grief.
Would love to hear from you. You know where to find me. Please subscribe, and forward this to a friend or conspiracy theorist.
Thanks to James Abels and Shane Small.
Good luck and Godspeed.