Nobody doubts that throughout history the lie and the manipulation of information have been part of the power relations and the struggle between States. Society has assumed with relative normality that political actors have a complicated relationship with the truth, and that, therefore, the only way to remain immune to its effects is to adopt a position of deep skepticism.
So, if there is nothing new under the sun, why is disinformation so worrying? The simple answer would be: the internet.
The distribution medium has not only been a tool but a vector that transformed the content of the message and its objectives. Much attention has been paid to the way in which the message is constructed to try to explain why some manipulators are successful and others are not; however, the fact that people construct different meaningful chords to their experience as reader, listener, viewer or internet user has been undervalued. In the digital age, when people publish, comment, share, and search, they are participating in the information process in an absolutely new way. We are actors in our own consumption of information, and this represents a subtle, but very important change. Traditional propaganda always faced the obstacle of citizens being passive consumers of the information provided by the mass media. Regardless of its persuasive ability, the recipient was distanced from a message that had been produced and distributed by others.
Research on inﬂuence operations shows us that these operations seldom try to change what people think. It is more about confirming what people already believe. Therein lies the great danger of disinformation: far from providing uncomfortable data and making the receiver have to take the effort to rethink those of their opinions that collide with reality, the disinformation throws its consumer a comfortable state of confirmation of their prejudices. This effect is especially gratifying when misinformation supports positions that the individual is reluctant to openly defend, because he considers them unpopular and may lead to reproach from those around him. The dissemination of its contents supposes a public vindication of the supposed intelligence, critical sense, and independence of those who have been forced to maintain a low profile forced by the “dictatorship of political correctness”.
This narcissistic drive leads them to become actively involved in the dissemination of these contents.
In the words of the ex-Soviet leader Yuri Andropov:
“Disinformation is like cocaine. If you try it once or twice, it may not change your life. But if you try it every day, it can transform you into a different person”
How we are changing: The Dunning-Kruger effect
Attachment to disinformation, or to fake news that reinforce our perspective and gives us, for a brief period of time, the authority of a sage; results in an unprecedented change in the way we communicate and relate to each other.
The digital culture encourages us to lead trends and learn about all aspects of the world in which we live, to overcome the bombardment of information, and become media experts. However, this process derives in a general inability to manage our own ignorance, either because of shame, lack of interest, or pure laziness.
We do not want to be ignorants but, actually, everyone is ignorant. We are simply not ignorant to the same degree, nor do we all acknowledge it to the same degree. Ignorance indicates a lack of knowledge or experience and it is precisely this lack of knowledge that makes ignorant people vehement and suspicious, to the point that they can become enemies of people who have different experiences or knowledge.
People who ignore their own limitations to knowledge are threatened by their own vision, making it impossible to communicate assertively with them. Anything that does not fit within their patterns of acceptability is a reason for conflict, which can be resolved in any way, except through acceptance.
And this is the type of people who are born from disinformation, those affected by the Dunning-Kruger effect.
This kind of false self-perception was discovered by Professors David Dunning and Justin Kruger of Cornell University in 1999. Both researchers began by analyzing studies that suggested that ignorance gives people more confidence than knowledge, and it refers to people who tend to overestimate how much they know, and how much knowledge they actually have or the certainty with which they combine their personal opinions with irrefutable facts -irrefutable, at least, for them.
It is easy to visualize a person that we can identify with the previous description. These types of people make up almost a new generation, but we must not forget that this is a generation of which we are also part.
The exercise of awareness and internal reflection that we have to do in our digital dives, and in our social debates, must be constant. Critical thinking and information are concepts that fade with the passage of time and the evolution of the internet, and adaptation to a way of being that substitutes ignorance for “fake knowing” is something that we are tempted by the simple fact of existing and developing in this contemporary age.
Therefore, to combat disinformation, both in our environment and in ourselves, it is necessary to inform ourselves about it.
Wikipedia is not the ultimate solution to our problems, a single digital newspaper does not have the last word in international geopolitics, nor does the WhatsApp message that someone sent to you represent reality as it is.
Let’s understand that in our limitation lies our power: the power of wanting to know. Discover, explore, and understand; not through prejudice or the words of another; but through the information that helps us build a solid opinion of our own, in which there is room for reconstruction and learning.