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Misinformation is an unwieldy beast, but we need to stop being blasé about it

IbyIMD+ Published 1 April 2022 in Competitiveness • 6 min read

Recent events have highlighted how the dominance of online news and social media platforms, and their capacity to manipulate the reader, means that we – as consumers – must now take an interest in checking the reliability of our providers, say José Caballero & Christos Cabolis

When Russia launched an attack on Ukraine in the early hours of 24 February, it quickly became clear that reactions from the international community were going to be on a different scale to those of comparable events. “Never in modern history has an economy of Russia’s scale been subjected to such extraordinary ostracism,” wrote Eric Levitz in Intelligencer. Unified sanctions were imposed from European countries and the US, while the private sector contributed to Russia’s isolation by abandoning operations in its market.

And yet, another singularity to this war was about to come to the fore concerning the nature of the information we are receiving about it. The Ukraine-Russia military conflict is the first of its type to expose the way social media shows no difference in its presentation of factual and non-factual content, and the ramifications of this. We are seeing an ‘entanglement’ of both types, feeding an overall unreliability of information.

Indeed, wrote Stuart A. Thompson and Davey Alba in The New York Times, a parallel information war has been identified: “In the information war over the invasion of Ukraine, some of the country’s official accounts have pushed stories with questionable veracity, spreading anecdotes, gripping on-the-ground accounts and even some unverified information that was later proved false, in a rapid jumble of fact and myth.”

Fact and fiction merge as one, and winners and losers are predicted early on based on who is confusing the public the most and shaping the narrative toward their own interests.

Only a certain subset of onlookers are fully aware that we cannot trust everything that is available to us, and this applies as much to broadcast news as it does to social media. We read about what constitutes ‘fake’ news in the Russia-Ukraine context and about how supposedly real events are being undermined through the power of social media.

The question then becomes: Is there anything that can be done to help us see the wood for the trees, and where does the responsibility lie?

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