Misinformation and Disinformation

Opening night of #misinfocon

Last weekend, I attended the #Misinfocon summit at MIT Media Lab and the Nieman Foundation for Journalism. They brought together a well-curated group of people which included journalists, technologists, and activists, among others to discuss problems associated with fake news and work on projects that would help solve it.

One thing that was particularly helpful for me: clarifying the difference between misinformation and disinformation. I’ve been using the terms interchangeably but the distinction is important. First Draft News presented a pretty thorough breakdown of the misinformation ecosystem that includes types of content and motivations for disseminating it. It’s a good resource for wrapping your head around fake news, and made for a good overall frame #misinfocon attendees.

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Obviously, we didn’t solve the problem of fake news in one weekend. We barely scratched the surface. But I came away with three takeaways:

  • Activists need a way to share best practices globally. Media folks are already doing this. Certainly, the so-called alt-right is doing this. But when it comes to progressive activism, I feel like we’re still flying a bit blind. I’m not sure what this method of sharing looks like, but I’m convinced it’s needed.
  • There was some talk about pressuring ad networks to remove fake news sites from their rotation. This got me thinking a lot about fake news as a form of persuasion. In 2016, as a consultant I encountered a lot of skepticism from clients about the value of non-video persuasion ads. Now I find myself wondering how much that skepticism cost Democrats elections. As campaigns are thinking through their ad budgets for 2018, countering unregulated disinformation has to figure in how they allocate their resources.
  • I worry that there’s too much overall focus on the end result of dis- and misinformation. By the time misinformation reaches your right wing uncle’s Facebook page, it’s too late to do anything about it. You’re not going to convince him it isn’t true. How do we cut off dissemination networks at the source? How do we stop fake news from spreading at all?

If you’re interested in others’ thoughts on #misinfocon some of the participants have included their own takeaways on Medium.

The above is an excerpt from Ctrl Alt Right Delete, a weekly newsletter devoted to understanding how the right operates online and developing strategies and tactics to fight back.

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