Misinformation and Disinformation or is it Just Propaganda: What is a Ruralite to Do?

Living in an area with little access to breaking or current events, some people will turn to an alternate source. The reason for this, at least out here in the boonies, is that we only have three radio stations in the area and 1 TV translator for a market over 150 miles away. So, in reality, the radio and TV stations are the only news source. But we don't have an antenna for radio, TV, or even satellite as we cut the cord to save money. For local, state, US, or even international news, there can be quite a delay that might be as long as 24 hours before hearing of a major event via local broadcasts. The only alternative for us for the latest breaking news is going online. This might include going to Fox News, CNN, Reuters, The Associated Press, United Press International, YouTube, Facebook, and even X, formally known as Twitter. So, there are quite a few choices online to choose from.

Out of all of these sources, X has been the preferred platform for journalists through recent years because it has allowed them to "be first to the story" and get updated information on a story disseminated as quickly as possible. According to the Pew Research article dated June 27, 2022, that is still true. Elon Musk even said, "I'm a big believer in citizen journalism and following individual journalists over publications!". He has also stated, "I hope people around the world engage in citizen journalism, so we know what's truly happening, and we get real-time, on-the-ground coverage!". With that statement, Elon is effectively promising that X will continue to be a home where journalist, independent, contract or otherwise, can post their stories and get them out to the world as quickly as possible.

Politicians also like using X to stay informed about what their constituents consider important about specific events or topics. However, this leaves them open to outside influence as well. For example, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, one of the more popular representatives on X currently serving in Congress, can instantly get her message out to her 13.2 million followers. Conversely, in her NY-14 district, she only represents 700,000 people. The outside influence on her decision-making is potentially rather significant. But that does work both ways. With the current events in Israel and Gaza flaring up, she recently posted something that made me stop and think. "The level of misinformation in all directions is incredibly high, especially on this platform. If you see a claim, photo, or video that triggers a strong emotional reaction, take a moment to pause and check for veracity/confirmation from multiple sources." And I have to say, to an extent, I agree with her.

Does this crowd-sourced journalism work ostensibly? Yes. Does it open the door for what could be classified as misinformation or disinformation? Of course, it does. Has mainstream media participated in this tactic or been a victim of it? Definitely! Denying that these exist on any platform or site is disingenuous at best. 15-second video clips taken out of context from a 20-minute statement, 3-year-old videos posted and claimed as a current event, manipulated documents, photos, or even X posts all exist. With AI becoming the new shiny thing these days, artistry is employed to make it seem that politicians are saying something they never said in real life. Make no mistake: AI creation in video format is an art form. Imagine this being utilized to make it seem that a large event is happening somewhere to sway opinion. Is it dangerous? Probably. But AI is a whole other discussion. However, these can misguide someone to an argument's side or the other. Especially, as AOC stated, if it's to garner a "strong emotional reaction."

The internet age has opened the door to all the world's information, and it's available instantly at your fingertips. It's more information than any human alive could absorb in a lifetime or any building could contain. The internet has become the penultimate Library of Alexandria, as there is no telling what the future will hold. But how do you control all that information? In essence, you can't. If you are blocked in your country from it, use a VPN to a different one, and abracadabra, you have access. Under the Digital Services Act, Thierry Breton and the European Commission's Ursula von der Leyen are attempting to control the information. They claim that X, Facebook, YouTube, and other platforms are the most prominent purveyors of misinformation, disinformation, or posts deemed "dangerous to the community." Last I checked, though, the European Commission also states on its website, "Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers." The EC's own DSA is opposed to that very freedom.
It has become apparent that government censorship has occurred here in the US, especially with the recently released Twitter Files covered by Matt Taibbi, Bari Weiss, and others. Under the 1st Amendment, this is expressly forbidden. The recent lawsuit by Missouri v Biden, which is being covered extensively by Tracy Beanz, is an attempt to hold the US government accountable for those egregious actions and bar them from future censorship activities. However, The same cannot be said for other nations, as they do not have the same protections that the United States enjoys. Any government treating its citizenry as needing protection from misinformation or disinformation is authoritarian and dictatorial.

What are we, as freethinking individuals, to do about this? As Louise Brandies is famously quoted from a 1913 Harper's Weekly article titled What Publicity Can Do, "Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants." What does that mean? It means that allowing more information will lead to the truth. Take this post from X, for example, where it was claimed that a Hamas jet was taken down by a single Israeli soldier using a pistol. The astute among us might recognize that the video shows an anti-aircraft rotary cannon being employed and not a single gun.  Additionally, there is no evidence that Hamas has access to or been provided any military jet aircraft. Yet X's own Community Notes added context to the video for clarification that this footage was from a video game. Whether the post was intended as a joke or a flagrant attempt at misinformation is a distinction that I leave you, the reader.

Here is yet another example of someone making a verifiably false statement. Community Notes rightly added clarification and a link from the CDC that smoking cigarettes is bad for you.

There are many more examples on X where Community Notes has debunked claims that are too graphic to share here, and the original post was deleted after Community Notes was placed. One example from the recent Israel and Hamas conflict is when someone posted a video claiming it showed Hamas killing Israelis in their home. A Community Note was added that it was actually a killing in Syria from 2013—an apparent attempt at manipulation to garner more anger towards Hamas and sympathy for Israel. I will state, however, that there are also instances where a Community Note was removed from posts once the claims were proven to be accurate. So, it has worked in both directions.

Is Community Notes the answer? For X, maybe so. It is a start, at least. It is very clear, to the point, provides alternative sources for clarification and context, and in some cases, has outright debunked false information. Politicians and Presidents are not immune to this either. As of today, Community Notes seem to be unbiased as sources to back them up can be added from any information outlet. There have also been consequences if it is perceived that Community Notes is being manipulated, with bans from the platform having already occurred. Funny enough, Community Notes have even been added to X's advertisers. If that's not transparency in action, I don't know what is.

Ultimately, it boils down to this. Don't jump to conclusions; be patient, check other sources, and use your judgment. The internet is in its infancy compared to the human species' existence. We as a society are still learning how best to utilize this on-demand information and entertainment pipeline, and there will be bad actors attempting to manipulate it.

David Setliff is a writer who "delivers a worldview from the rural perspective." He is the author of The Flyover Chronicles on Substack. You can follow Dave on X here.

Get the latest news delivered daily!

We will send you breaking news right to your inbox

© 2024 uncoverdc.com