Fake news, information wars, and the general poisoning of the internet with widespread misinformation are transforming the Information Age into the Dark Misinformation Age. Where the World Wide Web promised to empower mankind with an ever-expanding library of open knowledge and a platform for global discussion, those skilled in the science of IT and the art of propaganda have seized control of cyberspace. Combating those who abuse the power of their technical skills and cyber infrastructure requires a new Age of Enlightenment. It requires a revolution in how people across the globe consume information.
Ultimately, the driving force behind the global Information War is a lack of trust in civil institutions, such as governments, national security agencies, news outlets, and the sciences. Instead of trusting traditional, and necessary, sources of information, people tend to trust their own preconceived notions and more familiar sources of information, which are more sympathetic to their views. This makes it very difficult to both dispel misperceptions, as well as misinformation, and much easier to use bias to manipulate groups of individuals who share similar views. In recognizing humanity is geographically globalized, yet remains intellectually and ideologically localized, solutions present themselves.
Civilization has been steadily growing ever more connected in a process often called globalization. Although attempts to artificially accelerate globalization, such as “free trade” agreements and the overreach of international governing institutions like the EU, have sparked anti-globalist movements, the embrace of the International Community since the end of the second World War has enabled the world to turn from the destruction of ever intensifying wars to globalized diplomatic engagement. Because people trusted in civil institutions, progress was possible. Because trust has waned in international institutions, such as the UN, the world is regressing. As such, the need for proper governance and credible sources of information requires trust in civil institutions.
The problem is not a lack of civil institutions. It is the inability to trust in civil institutions that are needed and must be trusted. Unfortunately, there is no easily or quick question to this trust deficit. Quite frankly, the Peoples of the world will never against fully trust in their civil institutions and leaders. Proactive and constant transparency will, however, help eventually restore a workable level of trust. When there is a continual stream of revolutions demonstrating the inability to trust those in civil institutions, and their decisions, trust becomes impossible. Where there is a reluctance to recognize and confront uncomfortable truths, trust buildings is not possible. A commitment to transparency is the only remedy.
With that in mind, there are more unknowns than there are knowns in the world. It is specifically when there are unknowns that trust is needed. Governments and national security must cope with unknowns by acting on their best judgments. Only when people trust in the judgment of public officials can they act on unknowns during times of uncertainly without backlash. For news outlets and the sciences, unknowns require “filling in the gaps” with what is known, what is expected, and what has been known to work. Obviously, people can only be asked to trust for so long before they stop trusting; therefore, there is a need to verify facts as often as possible. Only by continually validating the positions of civil institutions can civil institutions rebuild trust.
That said, it is helpful to recognize scientific thinkers continually question. They do not, however, blindly question everything and everyone nor do they jump to conclusions when new information contradicts their understanding of subjects. What they do is question what assumptions are made and determine how assumptions affect their conclusions. By doing this, they are able to identify when facts might be false or misperceptions might be distorting the reality of facts. On the other hand, unknowns tend to leave room for debate on almost every issue, which creates another issue: perpetual confusion. This, of course, makes it necessary to look at other means of accessing the truth.
Patterns are probably the most powerful means of determining the validity of the facts. After all, liars tend to lie, especially when it is in their interests to do so. Discernible, and valid, patterns show what is expected and what is unexpected. Because the expected is never a certainty and the unexpected is possible, there is also a need to verify the validity of observed patterns by determining whether multiple patterns come to the same conclusion. In consuming information, people need to learn, and ask for, the ways information connect, so they can better determine the validity of the information. When facts are true, they align in a logical sequence. When facts are false, there are unknowns, there are misperceptions, and/or there are misrepresentations, the facts will not align perfectly.
When it comes to people and organizations, the most telling patterns stem from the pursuit of interests. “Actors” are most likely to act in pursuit of their own perceived interests. Where actors have shared interests, they can be expected to seek the same goals. When actors have conflicting interests, they are most likely to have diverging goals and act in conflicting ways. By understanding the interests at play, as well as why actors might ignore their own interests and alternative ways to satisfy interests, it is possible to verify the validity of claims and dispel misinformation, such as fake news and propaganda . In completing patterns, especially when it comes to the interests of actors, truths can be uncovered and falsehoods discovered.
Clearly, it is far easier to spread misinformation and confusion that it is to instill trust and confirm facts. It is especially hard to train a critical mass of the world’s population to filter out misinformation in order to combatant misinformation and misperceptions. Fortunately, the largely science-based modern education has already instilled younger generations with the sills sets needed to properly question and assess the validity of information. By encouraging people to use these skills, these skills can be put to use in the combating misinformation. For those in positions of influence, it is necessary to lead by example and encourage healthy consumption of information.
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