Ten Lessons for the Age of Disinformation

Ten Lessons for the Age of Disinformation

Thomas Joseph Froehlich
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-2543-2.ch003
(Individual Chapters)
No Current Special Offers


This chapter outlines the structure and content of a course devoted to developing strategies to cope with the massive assault of disinformation on American democracy. Ten lessons for the age of disinformation will provide pedagogical techniques to teach high school, college students, or adult learners how to cope with our current environment, which the author calls the “Age of Disinformation.” It provides a multifaceted approach in which each facet reinforces the others. The 10 lessons are (1) characteristics of the age of disinformation; (2) the varieties of false information; (3) knowledge, opinion, and second-hand knowledge; (4) deception and self-deception; (5) psychological factors; (6) cognitive authorities; (7) social media, intellectual freedom, and libraries; (8) logical fallacies; (9) ethical principles; and (10) information, media, and digital literacies and personal, political, and professional commitments. Each lesson outlines the key ideas for each lesson and provides exercises that reinforce the key ideas of each lesson.
Chapter Preview

Lesson 1: Characteristics Of The Age Of Disinformation

Key ideas:

  • While disinformation has always been around, we are now engaged in global InfoWars, whereby true information is challenged by the varieties of ignorance and false information so that we have truly entered the Age of Disinformation.

  • The Internet, self-publishing, and online trolls have dramatically increased the level, breadth, and speed of disinformation.

  • The InfoWars between truthful information and disinformation are not balanced. To insist that the two sides have equivalent value falls prey to the notion of false equivalences. While there may be two sides to every story, each side is not equally supported, grounded, or deserving of being entertained.

  • The side of disinformation insists on invalidating every opinion but its own.

As long as there have been human beings, there has been disinformation. The term itself is based upon a calque of a Russian word, Dezinformatsiya, which was supposedly invented by Joseph Stalin as a French-sounding word, after World War II, according to Ion Mihai Pacepa, a high-ranking official in Romania's secret police who defected in 1978 (Pacepa & Rychlak, 2013). It was derived from the name of a KGB (Russian Committee for State Security) black propaganda department, which disseminated a kind of propaganda that suggested that it was generated by those that it was supposed to discredit. The 1952 Great Soviet Encyclopedia called disinformation the “dissemination (in the press, on the radio, etc.) of false reports intended to mislead public opinion” (Taylor, 2019). It came into use in the 1960s and came into widespread use in the 1980s (Taylor, 2019). Its characterization has not changed much from the Soviet one, although it may have broadened its reach. Disinformation is false information with the intent to deceive, whether personally, socially, or politically. What has changed is its pervasiveness, speed, and the extent and variety of communication channels available to spread it. The Age of Disinformation has at least two dimensions: (1) the perpetuation of disinformation as a political strategy through all forms of media; and (2) the attack on reliable information, based on facts, reason, and evidence, intensified by the political structure which asserts if the current political establishment does not agree with it, it is, therefore “fake news.” The disinformed are not merely disinformed; they often assert that only their “information” is true and contrary views must be rejected.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Self-Deception: A psychological or social process whereby we hide, ignore or avoid information that runs contrary to what we want to believe about ourselves, our relationships, our environment, particularly our political environment, or the world.

Disinformation: Misinformation, lies, or false information supplied with the deliberate intention to mislead or misinform, most often in a political context.

Information Ethics: That branch of ethics that addresses ethical concerns about the sources, creation, organization, dissemination, transmission, packaging, use, and evaluation of information.

Cognitive Authority: When one lacks experience, education, or knowledge, or does not have the time or inclination to acquire such, a cognitive authority is a person, organization, media source, group, or leader whose information one takes as second-hand knowledge based on that entity’s credibility, trustworthiness, and reliability. One can be mistaken about whether the authority is sound or not.

Information Literacy: The set of skills and competencies of information seekers to critically `find, retrieve, evaluate, and use information suitable to their information-seeking objectives.

Second-Hand Knowledge: Information derived from one’s cognitive authorities to help one’s interaction with different domains in the world, whether assessments of the best books of the year or decisions about political issues. It is not really knowledge per se in the mind of the receivers, but opinions based on the credibility, trust or reliability of those authorities. Such information can be true or false or a preference based on the quality and nature of the “knowledge” that one receives from their cognitive authority.

Gullibility: A tendency to be easily persuaded or duped into a problematic choice or course of action or to believe assertions unsupported by facts or evidence.

Logical Fallacy: An instance of deceptive or specious reasoning that makes weak arguments appear superficially attractive.

Media Literacy: The set of critical skills and competencies for media users or creators to be able to retrieve, analyze, evaluate, generate, and interpret all forms of messages. It involves understanding how messages are constructed, how they are variously experienced, how they have embedded points of view, and what the intentions of what their creators were, whether profit, power, or some other purpose.

Deception: In the context of fake news, the process of hiding the real intent of provided information, which is to mislead or misinform, frequently about political issues or political leaders.

Information Avoidance: A psychological, social or political behavior to ignore or avoid information for the tacit purpose of self-deception, for good (e.g., in protecting a patient from the knowledge of a mortal illness) or ill (e.g., in refusing to listen to any news sources that contradict one’s biases).

Digital Ethics: The branch of ethics that applies to digital media, for example, in online contexts, how users interact with each other, both in representing themselves and controlling data about themselves in the platforms and technologies that they use and in their respect for other users and for other users’ rights to self-determination and privacy. Professionally, it means to be circumspect in engaging with clients or patients online, both in seeking data about them or interacting with them. Apart from these local issues, there are also global issues, such as whether Americans, their government, or their representatives will allow, for example, computer programs to act as speech regulators or set norms to frame governmental policy or to regulate behavior.

Complete Chapter List

Search this Book: