If anything people have become better informed
Wishful thinking drives much of the focus on misinformation. It's unpleasant to be disagreed with. It shows people don't share your values, or heaven forbid, that you might be wrong. Misinformation evades that unpleasantness. People don't really disagree with you, they're just misinformed.
It's part of the broader "politics as entertainment" problem. If your top priority is to win elections and enact policy, there's an obvious downside to implicitly labelling as stupid those who disagree with you, and whom you need to persuade to cross to your side. But if you're just trying to feel good about yourself, it's great.
I think a lot of the misinformation panic comes from the kind of techno optimism that a lot of people lived in in the 90s and 00s. That good information would drive out bad and basically we’d just end up debating marginal tax rates forevermore.
Almost baked into a lot of that era’s cheerleaders like Thomas Friedman is the whole world will one day, soon act like elite westerners and there will still be gatekeepers on respectable conversations it will just include a bit more diversity.
I think the "misinformation" craze is a moral panic that's a continuation of the same phenomenon the world has seen around almost every new communications technology or art form. Whether it's jazz, or comic books, or rap, or metal, or porn, or video games, you hear people say, "I'm as strong a supporter of the First Amendment as anyone, but this new stuff is just too powerful, and we should make an exception." But if you support the core idea behind freedom of speech, you have to understand that *the median person is capable of being a critical consumer of media*.
The "misinformation" crowd will cite the *volume* of false or misleading news articles and how many people saw them on Facebook, which tells us *nothing* about the proportion of viewers who took it seriously. The internet right now is such that the sides of tons of web pages are crammed with absolutely insane, scummy ads about poorly aging celebrities and video games that are too sexy to play until you're 45. AND DIGITAL NATIVES HAVE LEARNED TO JUST LITERALLY TUNE THIS ALL OUT. "Misinformation" is not a magic spell that turns people into zombies, and porn and video games aren't either, any more than jazz ever was.
Those greatly concerned about "misinformation" in politics are, I think, not actually very big fans of democracy. The heritage of the early American republic is of a rough-and-tumble knives out fight for democratic power. But that faded into a long period of voters mostly being irrelevant to the truly important policy considerations. The parties were not nearly so ideological, and voters were important insofar as they put a constraint on how much of an asshole or failure a particular representative could be (or how salacious their sex lives could become). But the real question of governing the country was held by a relatively small group of educated elites who were invested in the political conversation.
The much larger educated elite of today wants to continue this process of basically controlling the entire country. They do not *really* believe that some guy whose only education is how to be an electrician should wield any significant power. They pretend to, because they're supposed to, but they don't like true democracy.
Whether or not they are wrong to feel this way is a separate question, but they are not interested in truly popular governance despite their protests to the contrary.
My favorite thing about American journalists and pundits who are fixated on “misinformation” is that they don’t seem to care that much when people like Sanders call European social democracy “socialism”. No mention of how both Maastricht and Lisbon make it impossible for any member state to implement any socialist policy, and no mention of the fact that socialism actually existed in some EU member states until 30 years ago but not anymore.
The Internet has greatly reduced the cost of calling bullshit. Being contradicted by wikipedia is prima facie evidence of bullshit and we all carry the entire wikipedia in our pockets. Because calling bullshit takes less time than before, it happens more often. Thus, we more frequently see bullshiters get outed and try to rationalize. This second order effect makes bullshit look more common when, in reality, it’s just become easier to expose.
I definitely think some pro-vaccine people should perhaps calm down a bit, about misinformation and everything else. Vaccines work, and you should get them for Covid and other stuff. But the reaction against some people who refused to get vaccinated seems to want to punish them for the sake of it.
For example, Dr Eric Topol is a person worth viewing on Twitter for some interesting, but totally normal information about Covid. He also has a free Substack, where he recently said we should acknowledge that natural immunity is strong and long lasting. People who have been infected before, particularly with a pre-Omicron version of the virus, are unlikely to be seriously affected by reinfection. Any vaccine mandate that does not recognise this is just punishing people for the sake of it. And how many people who are unvaccinated have not been infected yet?
Now read this Twitter thread where he introduces his recent post:
The silliness on that thread from people who should know better is amazing. Somebody called Ebony Jade Hilton, apparently a doctor and MSNBC contributor, thinks Topol was advocating that people should get infected rather than vaccinated. She is like a shrill animal rights advocate that makes a vegetarian want to eat a rare veal steak, or an environmentalist that that makes you want to roll coal in a monster truck.
Worst misinformation lately was that i must have died from a drug overdose
In my personal life experience the internet didn’t so much as serve as a vector of misinformation as it made confirmation bias worse. When it comes to information consumption a lot of people don’t necessarily want the truth but want their beliefs reenforced and will only go to sites/follow people on Twitter that they agree with. The people I know who were the most against the Covid vaccine were people who were previously very prone to believing every conspiracy theory they hear.
I think it should be pretty clear at this point that the human mind did not evolve to deal with the vast amount of information now available to it, nor the near-constant exposure to the ideas and thoughts of those with whom we disagree.
That constancy enables an acid drop of de-humanization; “that is stupid” to “they’re stupid” to “no reasonable person could believe this” to “no one could believe this” to “they’re a paid shill” to “they should be (harmed in some way)” is just not an uncommon chain of thought when faced with persistent disagreements that can never be reconciled like they must be in personal relationships.
What to *do* about this understanding is a bit harder. “Nuke Facebook’s servers” is not an option.
Narratives rule. One unfortunate thing about idealogical parties (and I was always an advocate for them) is that it makes it harder to disagree with "misinformaion" or a flawed narrative without being seen as a traitor to the party
As a former committee person and long time volunteer for Democrats I have been accused of that over the past 2 years because I don't buy every narrative. I am still a Democrat, but it makes it hard to do the party work.
An additional problem is that it's just too easy to be imprecise or expansive when you start calling out "misinformation." Do you mean this person is lying? Do you mean this person is misunderstanding something? Do you mean this person is saying something that's basically correct but doesn't or shouldn't have the implications they think? Do you mean it's unproven so far but could be true? Or do you just disagree and that's just, like, your opinion man?
People use the term misinformation for all sorts of stuff like that. People being people, if it's relatively easy to weaponize something that's not tightly defined that lets you delegitimize your opponents, then they will. That doesn't mean misinformation doesn't exist. It just means that how the term is actually used is not really precise, and shifts over time based on usage, and can be a means of obscuring the truth as well as illuminating it. (Call this observation "critical misinformation theory"....)
And once people realize misinformation is in the eye of the beholder, that lets them give themselves permission to ignore cries of misinformation in other areas - even where they're dreadfully wrong. The end result is sadly predictable: increasingly frantic yelling about misinformation that accomplishes less and less.
Holy cow I disagree with this post so incredibly hard on the big picture even though I think it contains a bunch of true facts. It's almost as if I feel that accepting it as true would leave me misinformed. Which is exactly the piece that I think is missing from this... it's great that people know more true facts these days, but knowing facts easily goes exactly the way Matt describes with the moon landing stuff. Just because you know more true facts does not mean the sum of information you're receiving more accurately represents the world, and I think that's the sense in which we're becoming more misinformed
I loosely crib the bias-variance tradeoff from ML to think about consuming modern media. If you live under a rock and never learn anything, your view of the world is probably not very biased, but it's super high variance because all you have for opinions is whatever you first think of when you hear about a topic for the first time. Meanwhile, if you consoom news media 24 hours a day you're going to have really low variance because you've formed some worldview that feels consistent to you, but probably really high bias because people getting sorted into polarized echo chambers is a super remarkable feature of everything media right now
I don't think this is an iron law like it is in stats or whatever, but I think it's basically accurate in practice nonetheless, and as far as I can tell we giga-shifted from variance to bias
"I'd far rather be happy than right any day."
"And are you?"
"No. That's where it all falls down, of course."
"Pity", said Arthur. "It sounded like rather a good lifestyle otherwise."
Sorry, I think this post missed the mark on several points. Example. I have a nice Republican neighbor, interested in rescuing stray cats rather than politics. A few weeks ago we were speculating on when things will get back to normal and I mentioned a new study confirms the effectiveness of boosters in reducing hospital/death. She looked confused and said she thought studies showed vaccines made you more likely to get Covid. A few days later I read about how a small observational heavily confounded and non peer reviewed study that was posted on the internet was picked up by Fox and right wing social media to push that idea. Prior to 2000, she would not have been targeted for that misinformation. Point 2- changing positions on masks as the available data and the context changes is what people should do, not evidence of failure.
I think what many on the left refer to as "misinformation" are actually right-wing talking points that are intended to advance a right-wing point of view. They aren't necessarily "wrong" (though they frequently are), but select and frame the truth in such a way that is intended to sow doubt, mistrust, and fear in the public. Liberals have a baked-in assumption that the public is supposed to put their trust in government, institutions and expertise, so any messaging that challenges that assumption feels like "misinformation". This type of messaging is very pernicious because the left-wing project of building a politics of collective action is already very hard, and that type of messaging uses a "divide and conquer" strategy that makes that type of collective action even harder. But that doesn't make it "misinformation".