Age of disinformation and discontent

FROM FAR AND NEAR - Ruben Almendras - The Freeman

All media has been exposing the massive disinformation ongoing worldwide, primarily driven by social media, which is creating/enhancing social/political problems for governments, societies, and countries. Fake news is hardening the social divide and polarizing people by race, beliefs, and cultures. To the promoters of disinformation, getting their false/biased news accepted, or their agenda and candidates elected is a win, even if the medium- and long-term implications are damaging to their clients and to the broader society.

A crucial and natural consequence of disinformation is the eventual disbelief as the fake news gets increasingly unbelievable/absurd that it conflicts with verifiable reality. Other credible sources of information will assail the disinformation that only the fanatics and the ignorant will believe them, like claiming that Marcos built the Sierra Madre Mountains.

Fake news cannot announce a booming economy and a peaceful society if the poverty and hunger levels are increasing and violence is surging. The truism, “you cannot fool all the people all the time” is actually enhanced by the information and communication technologies that are available to the fake news purveyors and the fact checkers and the credible news media.

The dominant promoters of disinformation are mostly the authoritarian countries and populist leaders who want to control the information that their citizens can access. Only the news or information that is favorable to them is allowed and negative news is restricted or censored. This has been harder to do now with the internet and social media, but it is happening in China, Russia, Myanmar, Iran, and other totalitarian countries. And also in democratic countries whose populist leaders are extending their terms or promoting extreme right ideologies.

Aside from the self-limiting and short life cycle of disinformation, a 2021 scholarly study by Purdy, Navarre, and Utych traced the rise of populism, conspiracy, and the movement of the radical right as primarily driven by economics. The financial crisis in 2008 and in succeeding years were followed by much political discontent. Socio-political movements usually emerge after an economic collapse as financial problems of the government and the people alter the prevailing culture. The demonstrations ongoing in Iran and Russia are cases in point and the active rebellions in Myanmar and Venezuela are proof.

Given the state of the economy of many countries and the world, after the pandemic, the natural disasters, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, promoted disinformation may be leading more people in many countries to the “winter of discontent”. Fake news will not and does not alter economic reality. Good governance, truth and justice makes reality acceptable.

“Winter of our discontent” is a line in Shakespeare’s play Richard III and is a the title of a John Steinbeck novel which was made into a movie, starring Donald Sutherland. It is about a man who lifted himself from failure and poverty to power and success by cheating and corruption. He reformed in his later years and confronted his son for cheating/plagiarizing in a contest, and his unremorseful son replied that he did nothing wrong because everybody cheats and is corrupt anyway.


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