By ann summers
Excellent Mother Jones article on disinformation that offers an opportunity to remind us that the interpretive tools are there, but they get misused or disused.
Disinformation is false information that is deliberately created with the intent to mislead someone or cause harm. It falls under the larger umbrella of misinformation, which is defined as any kind of false information.
And then there’s artistic creativity in the production of information, but some folks can’t get past their fear of interpreting information, since there are so many bad examples of media that claim to be “entertainment” or “performance art” such as Rush Limbaugh and Alex Jones. Their humor tends not to be very funny as much as it depends on insults veiling pathological phobias.
Others are funny even as some folks are simply intolerant of indeterminate meaning that often comes from humor, especially the kind that is transgressive.
Worse are those whose disinformation consumption becomes blinkered, where otherwise (insert political preference) people decide that calling the cops should be reflexive: #BBQBecky, #PermitPatty, #SidewalkSusan, etc.
Some folks just aren’t good with nuance, regardless of their ideological preferences, and are perhaps thin-skinned about their own tolerance of Nazis. Defending the cleansing sunlight of the public sphere on hate speech doesn’t work when the RWNJs wear tin-foil hats; you’ll need a solar furnace or sharks with lasers.
Post-war Germany probably does a better job dealing with the speech rights of Nazis than the US did with defeating them.
As George Lakoff speaks of frames, he is speaking of cultural context because everything is framed, and the RW wants the opposite, that anti-diverse monoculture of Trumpian newspeak.
“Wardle at First Draft similarly suggests cultivating more emotional skepticism towards the information we consume. “We tend to think that we have rational relationships to information, but we don’t. We have emotional relationships to information, which is why the most effective disinformation draws on our underlying fears and world views,””
It’s important to note, however, that it’s often really hard—and, at times, impossible—to figure out the intent behind a piece of information; the reasons can be complex, and the intent can even shift over time. So generally, it’s helpful to classify something as misinformation first.
Unfortunately there are those folks who think they have the normative right to speak online as though there was strictly denotative meaning in order to denounce misinformation. As if because we can now carry dictionaries in our cell phones, that connotation is less relevant.
Ignoring that it is about framing ignores that George Lakoff has devoted now decades to the research agenda. While there may be not enough empirical research on framing it suffers from the usual disciplinary tribalism of social science, where framing gets different definitional spins in fields like communication, psychology, linguistics, economics, and cognitive science. For example there are informational spaces whose disinformation (or actions subject to disinformation) could be measured by mapping extensionality differences among agents.
(insert political preference) can be as lazy as anyone else when it comes to informational accountability or ideological ignorance. “Facts will not set you free”.
Because there is data doesn’t mean that is “good” or even useful (see 2016’s US election). And then there are keyboard vigilantes who think that their “qualifications” make them experts in their fields as well as others via bullying which is more about personality than professionalism.
More often than not, personal issues disorder the (moral and conceptual) frames brought to negotiate the meaning. Framing is not simply a critical practice, but about a ruthless approach to criticism that requires an appreciation of meta-criticism and in the case of humor, the difference between satire and parody see Poe’s Law.
Here’s a handy list of resources on verification, misinformation, and news literacy, suggested by our experts:
- First Draft News, – resources on understanding misinformation, including a free one-hour course on verification tools.
- The Week in Fact-Checking – Poynter’s roundup of news on fact-checking and misinformation.
- Factcheckingday.com – resources on fact-checking.
- The News Literacy Project – resources on teaching news literacy geared for educators.
- Online Verification Skills – a video series on some basic fact-checking techniques.
- A list of tools and resources from Poynter’s Daniel Funke—good for doing deeper dives.
It’s also important to remember that while there is an ethos for truthful information, that the forces of hate, evil, subjugation etc, are adept at active measures in disinformation. Like hacking, whitehats can also be or used to be blackhats. That’s the moral question in combating disinformation, as if the tools were as morally neutral as “facts would make us free”.Note also that a bit more cognitive, cultural, and creative work needs to be applied to make truthful information into “the truth”. The facts can often be dumb. Even dumber are those that are the product of ignored context. Even with “honest framing”, it’s “give a penny, take a penny”.
1. To understand the basic issues, read “A Minority President.” (This article starts with noting Trump was not elected by a popular vote majority and deconstructs the societal segments he appealed to and why.)
2. Know the difference between framing and propaganda. Frames are mental structures used in thought; every thought uses frames. Every word in every language is defined relative to a mental structure — a frame. Frames, in themselves, are unavoidable and neutral. Honest framing is the use of frames you believe and that are used to express truths. Propaganda expresses lies that propagandists know are lies for the sake of political or social advantage.
3. Hold Republicans accountable. Trump is dominating the media, partly to establish his authority, but mainly to divert attention and provide cover to Republican leaders. Keep focused on Republican actions. Minimize publicizing Trump — his image, his name, his tweets.
4. Focus attention on substance, not sideshows. Trump’s attacks on freedom, democracy, and the innocent matter more than his tweets. Positively and strongly reframe his pre-emptive framing (see tweet diagram).
5. Focus on democracy and freedom.
6. Be careful not to spread fake news. Check it out, on the “big four” non-partisan political fact-checkers—Politifact, Factcheck.org, the Washington Post’s Fact Checker, and Snopes.com. Subscribe to real news!
7. Understand the brain’s politics: All ideas are physical, embodied in neural circuitry.
8. Remember: We’re the POWERFUL American Majority. No more helpless/hopeless talk.
9. Be positive: frame all issues from a progressive moral viewpoint.
There are some good rules to follow as we move forward, even if they’re hard to resist doing. Lakoff perhaps premises a policy discourse that is more rational than what we have been experiencing, especially as the falsehoods have increased proportional to #Trump Russia’s progress. And then there’s the occasional Trump screw-up like the 2 December 2017 tweet that forced John Dowd to claim authorship but which may still figure in the obstruction of justice action.
1. Don’t use the president’s surname.
2. Remember this is a regime and he’s not acting alone.
3. Do not argue with those who support him — it doesn’t work.
4. Focus on his policies, not his orange-ness and mental state.
5. Keep your message positive; they want the country to be angry and fearful because this is the soil from which their darkest policies grow.
6. No more helpless/hopeless talk.
7. Support artists and the arts.
8. Be careful not to spread fake news — check it out first.
9. Take care of yourselves, and:
Coding doesn’t guarantee framing even when the “snark” tag or the “/s” is used:
In 2017, Wired published an article calling it “2017’s Most Important Internet Phenomenon” and noting that “Poe’s Law applies to more and more internet interactions”. The article gave examples of cases involving 4chan and President Donald Trump‘s administration where there were deliberate ambiguities over whether something was serious or intended as a parody, where people were using Poe’s Law as “a refuge” to camouflage beliefs that would otherwise be considered unacceptable.