What do WE, the users, do about fake news? About manipulated and made up information, even slightly biased information, wherever it comes from?! The media are asking themselves what to do about it – how to report what comes from one side or the other regardless of the facts. It is a media challenge, yes. But it is a challenge to any USER of information. The old Pogo retort applies: “We have met the enemy, and they is us.”
Yes, we can and must demand that the administration, the opposition, the media all share responsibility for educating the public – us. But we have to take it farther – and look into our own gullibility. In the end, we are the consumers. We are the customers. Just as we demand product quality, so we must demand better information quality – and know it when we see (and don’t) see it.
Sadly, as advertisers know, information consumers are more likely to notice and remember information that activates the emotional parts of our brains. Jonathan Haidt in The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion, says that references to care or harm, fairness or cheating, loyalty or betrayal, authority or subversion, sanctity or degradation, liberty or oppression resonate at deep levels in us – and they can capture our brains in ways that facts don’t. Daniel Kahneman, a psychologist who won a Nobel prize in economics (Thinking, Fast and Slow), exposes how irrational our decisions usually are. Linguists like George Lakoff (Don’t Think of An Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate) show us how our brains are captured by predictable emotional appeals and ways of presenting information. And brain scientists are watching – through fMRI lenses – what our brains are doing when we are riled up, hooked, fed information in various distorted ways.
Advertisers even have a name for the deliberate distortion of information in order to get what they want: behavior design (formerly called….”captology!”)
Information selectivity and distortion are predictable and, because information is always filtered in some way, inevitable. But deliberate manipulation will only become more common. It’s up to us to sharpen our ability to detect it – whether it is selective information, misinformation, disinformation, or full blown propaganda (listed in order of least to most flagrant distortion).
I will be writing more about how you can take on your power so that you see through what is presented to you. It is not easy for any of us – for it means pulling ourselves off automatic, working through fears and various messaging allures, and turning on our conscious brains. It means questioning, challenging, and demanding something different from those who control the various information “bully pulpits” around us.
Information is increasingly the most sought after currency of power. We must learn how to evaluate and use it to ensure we remain free in these times when so many with special interests would take this important aspect of freedom away from us.
I will be writing more in future blogs, about how we consumers of information can recognize and deal with the half truths, distortion and manipulation that surround us in increasingly clever ways, every day.
Pat McLagan is an award-winning adult educator and an experienced change advisor to individuals and organizations in the US and globally. She is author of The Shadow Side of Power: Lessons for Leaders and Change Is Everybody’s Business. Her new book, on learning 4.0 for today’s nonstop world will be released by the ATD Press, in May, 2017.