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  • Pauline Hoffmann

Disinformation - Can we escape it?


I've been calling myself an "infodemiologist." I am not even sure it's a word but I will check with official dictionary folks and if it isn't a word or if it isn't in official dictionaries, I will harass dictionary folks until it's added. To be fair, I don't know who "official dictionary folks" are. I will find out. (If anyone knows.....) What does infodemiologist mean? It means that I study infodemics - I ferret out disinformation and misinformation. I then share my study with others.


This week I want to talk about disinformation and its various hiding places. I first officially learned about disinformation and infodemics through the World Health Organization. Certainly I'd heard of propaganda and outright lies. I knew of disinformation, I just didn't have a name and I certainly didn't realize there were others out there like me who wanted to stop the spread! (But of course there would be.) When you think you are the only one, you are rarely correct. There are others, you just have to find them. And find them I did.


That said, the focus for us was health care. Do we see misinformation and disinformation in health care? Holy cripe, do we! I will give some examples, you know, in case you've just emerged from your living quarters under a rock after a years-long hibernation. Where else do we see it? Oh, so many places. Let's break down a few.....


Health care

Health care is ripe for disinformation. In fact, one of my favorite websites is the World Health Organization's mythbusters page. The link I shared is specific to the Covid-19 mythbusters page. You might think there would be a couple of myths to bust. You would be incorrect. They have categories, for Pete's sake! Categories from alcohol to swimming to masks, to name a few. What I like is that they note the myth and then state the truth but they do so using words and infographics. They also have videos. The truth displayed in a couple of different ways. And all information is sharable so you may disseminate it to all your friends.


What are some common myths or pieces of disinformation we've heard regarding healthcare? I think the most troubling for me are those involving vaccines. I've heard and seen so many untruths that it's difficult to keep track. What are my "favorites?" (And I use that term loosely.)

  • Bill Gates is planting a chip in the vaccine to track your movements. Complete poppycock. First of all, what would he gain by doing that? Secondly, if you are worried about being followed or tracked, get rid of your cell phone.

  • The pandemic was a hoax orchestrated by the Democrats (and/or China) to scare and derail the economy to their benefit. Also poppycock. Let's think about this one.....The Democrats can do many things but I wouldn't say organization and orchestration is their strong suit. Think about what it would take to pull off something like a worldwide hoax and scam? They can't get health care for all or manage a student loan forgiveness program. Pandemic, bah!

Those are just two. There are so many more. What makes these dangerous? If you think Bill Gates already has too much power, and you fear the "nanny state," the idea of a chip may seem real. Science fiction paints that picture and science fiction sometimes becomes truth. If you are unsure about science and biology you may think this is possible (and it may be possible but possibility doesn't mean reality). Before spreading this rumor, stop to think about it and then check some facts. Disinformation often starts by playing on our fears.


The democrats or China have been just as hurt by the pandemic as others. Why did this piece of disinformation take root? Certainly it plays on our fears but it could also be because we are looking to codify already held beliefs or we are trying to find others who feel as we do. If you already think Democrats and China are out to get you or are bad, this would be believable.


Politics

Good heavens.....Disinformation in politics is as old as, well, politics. Every year we see advertising campaigns for those seeking elected office. Many of those campaigns are either borderline or outright disinformation. They work! Why? The same reason they work in health care above. They play on our fears. They reinforce our already held beliefs. They allow us to find our people and others like us. What are some examples? I could use current examples - they are everywhere - but let's look to history.


Disinformation or negative campaigning in U.S. politics can be traced to a war of words between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson in the presidential election of 1800. (The details below are taken from a Mental Floss article.)


Jefferson said that Adams was a “hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.” To translate to 21st century parlance, Adams is a douchebag or similar. Adams retorted by saying something similar in terms of character assassination.


The election swung in Jefferson’s favor when he said that Adams wanted to go to war with France, an outright lie he knew would help him win because the U.S. was quite tired of war.

Again, preying on our fears. We were tired of war. No more war. No one thought to check to see if Jefferson's assertion was true. Google didn't exist in 1800. Fact-checking was time consuming and difficult - more so than today.


Religion

It just occurred to me that in this article, I am touching on the subjects you should never bring up at a dinner party.


What is the disinformation in religious contexts? A year or so ago, I found an article (wish I saved the link because now I can't find it) that detailed what witchcraft and Wicca were. It was written by a Catholic priest. That alone should make anyone suspect. Why would you take Wiccan advice from a Catholic priest? [Full disclosure: I am Wiccan.] Essentially he outlined all of the typical stereotypes related to Wicca - we worship the devil, sacrifice animals, etc. Utter poppycock! We do no such thing.


Why do people believe? He's a priest. He has authority (though, I would argue, not regarding Wicca). He is playing to your fears. He is reinforcing your already held beliefs.


This is just one example of religious disinformation. I find disinformation regarding religion particularly troubling because people have such strongly held religious beliefs. (I am not suggesting that is the problem.) We regard religious leaders as sacrosanct. We rarely question.


There are certainly other areas in which disinformation is rampant and you will read about them in future newsletters. I think this gives you an idea of how widespread and important a problem disinformation is.


To learn more, please join me on Tuesday, September 27, 2022 at noon EDT for my first disinformation clinic. To register, please go to: https://www.datadoyenne.com/clinic.

A zoom link will be sent closer to Tuesday. I hope to see you. It will be recorded so if you are unable to attend, you may view it. Please still register so that I may share the recording link.

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