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Disinformation War: Are We Prepared to Recognize the Truth When We See It?

During the last US presidential election cycle, may of us were appalled by how gullible Fox News viewers and other conservatives seemed to be. Persuaded by propaganda, folks bought wholesale into crazy conspiracies from right-wing institutions including, but not limited to Q-Anon.

While we were (and still are) bemused by all those goings-on, we must certainly begin to pay even closer attention to deliberate disinformation campaigns facing our own communities. Since the overwhelming growth of ADOS and FBA, a number of us--especially those trained in Black History and/or International Studies--have become increasingly aware of misinformation and disinformation campaigns directed towards Black communities.

What's the difference?

According to the Oxford Languages Dictionary, misinformation is "false or inaccurate information, especially that which is deliberately intended to deceive." Disinformation, on the other hand, is "false information which is intended to mislead, especially propaganda issued by a government organization to a rival power or the media. (emphasis added)"

As you can see, the two terms are similar, but not the same. Misinformation is typically used to deceive, but not necessarily motivated as propaganda by a government organization or a rival power.

If I had to explain the difference, I'd do so thusly:

Misinformation is what some cultural con-artists due to raise money for their own egotistical or monetary means (think about hustlers raising money for schools that never seem to materialize). Disinformation, on the other hand, is nefariously meant to attack our communities (think bots and trolls). Neither is good for us, and both should be readily identified and discredited because of the hard they inflict upon us.

What Can We Do?

Combating mis/disinformation campaigns requires (1) consideration of the source; (2) attempts at verification; and (3) knowledge of contexts. This means that many of us, will either need assistance verifying the source, or will need to slow down and take our time to do so.

First, when we encounter the meme or article about current events, we can do a quick search on "Snopes" or AP News Wire. Both are reliable and will offer some basic information on the reliability of the issue. The more sources of verification that we can consult, the more we can trust the information. But, we must also remember that the source itself needs to be understood. For example, who is the organization, what might be the motivation for spreading information, and how are they generally regarded? All of these things have to be though about.

On another level, we have to consider the context of the news itself. Is it believable when we understand the historical and/or contemporary context that it exists within? Do we know experts on the subject that we can consult? Do we have books to reference as we try to understand the issue?

As can be seen in just these few initial steps, verifying information is not something to be rushed through. It can be tempting to see something and just run with it, as some of our younger people are often to do.

Take for example, the (foolish) YouTube conspiracy that suggests Harriet Tubman was not a

real person. If we relay on the earlier steps, it can be readily debunked. (1) We can find basic reliable information citing Tubman's existence; (2) there are a number of these reliable sources that can be used to verify the evidence; and (3) if we talk to experts dedicated to understanding the 18th-20th centuries of US Black History, there is no doubt as to her historical record.

Dis/Misinformation can be dangerously distracting, costly, and divisive. If we are concerned about the well-being of our people, we must confront it.

Join me Friday, March 4 at 9:30 am EST on IG Live to discuss this further.

Always true,

Dr. Tip

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