Letter: Information and Misinformation

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America has an amazing problem with misinformation (and politics). Combine that phenomenon with us being such an “individualistic” country. So many individuals (25%?) assert their “democratic rights” ahead of the rights of society. Take the salient case of pandemic public health policy for example.

It’s not all about politics. Our refuse-nik friend seems unaware the whole country is mad at her. She won’t trust tv news, believing she gets superior insight from her internet research – seemingly oblivious to the algorithm game. So many folks are wrapped up in their own dark corner of the internet, and refuse to avail themselves to mainstream information.

Remember when the Information Highway would be a great force for openness and all good? –which it was; but it has become a mixed bag. Bad information can drive out good, and not everyone knows the difference. People can so easily be misled, and continue down some awful rabbit hole.

The Information Highway has become cheaper, higher quality, and more navigable. Online communities and collaborative tools proliferate. So much else: Sensors—from simple body cameras to satellite images. Ideas and facts of all sorts (where we would be wise to try to stick to the facts, and keep our own ideas open). Technological or human information, all overwhelming in volume and validity.

Of course this should all a force for good. Open-source intelligence might have been used for example to debunk Bush’s supposed WMD being concocted by Saddam Hussein. However, such intelligence can be laced with conspiracy theories such as the idea that there is a communist plot in the Biden administration or Hitler-like characters using vaccinations to implant microchips into our bodies.

Traditional arbiters of truth including democratic governments, publicly-vetted news organizations, university research and publications, etc have become so diffuse that even these sources aren’t entirely reliable. Walter Cronkite –type characters in the media have been drowned out by a proliferation of sources spinning “facts” left and right, and advocates and adherents on either side run with it in their respective (mis)directions. Even governments lie –Trump still is prolific; but autocratic governments can hide truth and promote falsehoods. It seems to me the best alternative is to rely on reputably the most reliable sources, but hedge your bets by taking in as many renditions as necessary to get all information. Not all of us have the time or ability to keep up with that. However, more information, with more open sources and methods, must ultimately be better than less.

Douglas Sikorski, Laguna Beach

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