Dee Carreon

Misinformation aims to create mistrust and confusion

February 28, 2020

On Dec. 1, 2016, Edgar Maddison Welch walks into a pizzeria in DC with a loaded assault rifle and fires one or more shots, thankfully not injuring or killing anyone. This event was the result of a fake conspiracy theory claiming that Hillary Clinton and her former campaign chair, John Podesta, ran a child sex ring in the basement of Comet Ping Pong, a pizzeria in Washington D.C.

Fake news and misinformation is everywhere these days and has potentially dangerous consequences, especially when it comes to politics. Facebook posts advocating for the message “No invaders allowed,” (playing off Republican calls during the 2016 campaign for border security measures), “Blue Lives Matter,” (blaming the Black Lives Matter Movement for “gruesome attacks on the police”) or the “Buff Bernie,” coloring book aimed at the LGBTQ movement.

We live in an age now where many people want nothing to do with politics. You hear it all the time — people are exhausted with the constant fighting and name-calling. With understanding, politics is confusing — like tracking what’s happening in the White House or who who’s currently leading in the primary elections. But when you add layers of misinformation and propaganda to the mix, understanding our current politics can be all but impossible.

If you short-circuit that process by saturating the ecosystem with misinformation and overwhelm the media’s ability to mediate, then you can disrupt the democratic process.”

— A Vox article, written by Sean Illing

“The press ideally should sift fact from fiction and give the public the information it needs to make enlightened political choices,” wrote Sean Illing in a Vox.com article. “If you short-circuit that process by saturating the ecosystem with misinformation and overwhelm the media’s ability to mediate, then you can disrupt the democratic process.”

And some political campaigns and foreign actors use misinformation as a political strategy to overwhelm the masses with information. Whether it is in the form of tweets from the president, memes shared on Reddit or bogus posts on Facebook, this information that may or may not be fact-based. And these posts often are skewed to add a favorable spin or mislead readers. In short, the media today is a confusing and disorienting jungle.

This new form of propaganda works not by creating unanimity on a narrative but by disorienting the public perspective so it feels impossible to know the truth about anything. The intent is not form a public consensus of understanding, but instead to encourage complete distrust in the press. The result: most would rather turn the other way to completely tune out of the dizzying mess. They have stopped looking for proper and accurate information and, instead, stick to places that feed them what they most want to hear. This is the propagandist’s desired result. There is nothing more evident of this process in the current times than Trump’s post-Iowa caucuses messages.

The Trump campaign took advantage of the ongoing delay in the state party reporting caucuses results. The Iowa Democratic Party said the delay was due in part to technical errors with an app that was used to report results from each precinct. However, Trump’s campaign manager Brad Parscale tweeted that it was evidence that the process was rigged against a candidate the establishment of the Democratic Party didn’t want to be the winner — namely Sen. Bernie Sanders.

It was just another effort by the Trump campaign to discourage would-be Democratic voters in trusting the political process to discourage their involvement.

Despite human error and other possible technical problems being accounted for in this process, misinformation seems to always come out the winner. During this time, top trending terms on twitter included “#BernieWon” and “#TomPerezResign.” The question remains: How do we protect against misinformation? How do we separate fact from fiction?

Types of Fake News

Fake news is everywhere, from newspapers to online social media like twitter, some are easy to spot while others seem very real. Fake news can be something small like a lie and also can be something like fact or the truth that has been altered or taken out of context to fit an agenda.

Fake news is not a new thing, in fact, it has been for a long time mostly on a small scale but fake news really comes out after an event or something about a person gets leaked. The problem with fake news is that the people who see it will believe it and take it as real. And the news outlets that don’t tell their viewers that they have gotten a story or some information wrong. Then these viewers who have taken in this misinformation and believe to be the truth then go and spread this information everywhere.

Armed with this misinformation, these people can attack and accuse other people or that one person of the wrong thing. 

Accidental misinformation

This is when a news outlet gets a story wrong by accident. Usually when they rushing to get that story out. In cases when this happens, most news outlets will state that they got the story wrong and fix it. But some news outlets won’t fix the story they got wrong or won’t even state that they got it wrong 

Intentional misinformation

This is when a news outlet gets a story wrong by changing some information or making stuff in the story seem smaller or bigger than it actually is. They do this to normally push an agenda. Also, there is basis news. This fits on the lines of pushing an agenda by putting their opinion in the story. Them putting their opinion in the story is fine when they tell you that is their opinion. It only becomes a problem when they try to pass off their opinion as the truth. Sometimes they will try to confuse you with information.

Propaganda

The soul purpose of propaganda is to get you to be all for something. It makes it seem like you should vote or fight for something or someone. Propaganda makes the opposing side look like the bad guy. And like misinformation, propaganda makes things seem bigger or smaller than they really are.

How to check for fake news

Fake news spreads around really quickly because people share it and view it on social media. And well you are reading a news story, ask yourself these questions and see you should take it as real. Here are some tips from Newseum Ed.  

Is it real?

Does the evidence hold up? Are the sources legitimate? Check the story’s information and facts to weed out the fakes.

Is it well-made?

A well-made story starts with solid facts. It should be calm, clear and neat, not a train wreck of exaggerated emotion (like ALL CAPS WORDS!!!) and sloppy.

Is it news or opinion?

News mainly explains what is happening. Opinion takes a stance to judge or make an argument about it. First-person voice or words like “perspective” and “editorial” are often tip offs it is opinion

Is it supported by facts?   

Is there good evidence? Look for statistics, studies, historical example, primary sources, expert analysis or other signs that the writer has done their research and can back up their argument.  

Is it biased?

Does the evidence show you the big picture? Biased stories may leave out key facts, so you only see one side of an issue. They may also exaggerate or downplay the importance of the story in the context of other news.

Is the bias open or sneaky?

Does the execution clearly aim for a specified audience? News with an open bias often uses partisan labels in its titles (like “Left-Wing News”) or declares support for partisan missions (like “help Republicans get elected”). News with a sneaky bias pretends it isn’t biased at all.

Does it entertain and/or raise awareness?

What is this story’s purpose? Weigh whether the story was created for darker reasons, like causing destruction’ scamming people for profit, or unfairly hurting someone of something.

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