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Fake News & Bad Info: Media Literacy Resources

Learn how language can be used to in a way that it affects the way people perceive reality. Unlike real news, whose purpose is to simply inform, the main purpose of disinformation is to confuse and manipulate people.

The Dangers of False Information

Who is Harmed by Fake News?




The Big Lie is used as a blinding propaganda technique - the lie MUST be true because who '"...would have the impudence to distort the truth (the property of being in accord with fact or reality) so infamously.'"  -- Adolph Hitler, Mein Kampf




False information can distort people’s beliefs, especially when it's repeated over and over again. Repetition is a great tool when used to reinforce positive and productive messages, and extremely dangerous when false information is continuously repeated by people in power positions, whose goal is to control the thoughts and beliefs of a group for personal gain. 

Repetition can numb the mind. It has been scientifically proven repeatedly, that when people are presented with evidence that proves something 100% correct, quite often not only they refuse to acknowledge the facts, they double-down on their beliefs in false information. They have willingly or unwillingly abandoned their own power of independent and critical thinking in exchange for what, exactly?

By treating fake news as real, people put themselves and others at risk in a number of critical ways:

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Health -  believing the Big Lie that Covid-19/coronavirus is a hoax or "just like the flu," people refuse to take the necessary precautions to protect themselves and others.  They may refuse effective treatments or seek "cures" that may either not work or may cause themselves or others serious injury, illness, or death.






Finances - people risk losing their savings, their retirement income, or going into significant debt by giving away hard-earned money thinking they will get rich quick, or a loved one will be miraculously cured.






Relationships - people put not only themselves at risk but also the health of finances of loved ones; On a societal level fake news can encourages hate speech, bullying, violence, discrimination, and bigotry against targeted groups.


Chaos Confuses

The Chaos is the Point: The Firehouse of Falsehood

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The Rand Research Corporation refers to the Russian model for propaganda as “the firehose of falsehood” because of these distinctive features:

  • large volumes of information
  • multiple channels and platforms 
    • propaganda (text, video, audio, and images) distributed via
      • internet
      • social media
      • television
      • radio 
  • loud, rapid, continuous, and repetitive messaging
  • lacks commitment to objective reality
  • lacks commitment to logical consistency

Experimental research shows that, to achieve success in disseminating propaganda, the variety of sources matters:

  • multiple sources are more persuasive than a single source,
    • sources contain different arguments that point to the same conclusion
    • similar messages from multiple sources are more persuasive
    • people assume information from multiple sources is
      • based on different perspectives 
      • worth greater consideration

The number and volume of sources also matter:

  • endorsement by a large number of users, regardless of credibility, boosts consumer trust, reliance, and confidence
  • persuasiveness of a message can depend more on the quantity of arguments than on the quality 

"Scholars who study modern disinformation tactics have identified examples such as proclaiming "coronavirus is a hoax" as “censorship through noise.” The purpose of this sort of propaganda blizzard is not to inspire conviction in a certain set of facts; it’s to bombard people with so many contradictory claims, conspiracy theories, what-abouts, and distortions people simply throw up their hands in confusion and exhaustion."

- McKay Coppins, The Atlantic, March 11, 2020.

Authoritarian Blindness and the Dangers of Disinformation

Authoritarian Blindness

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A term for the tendency of an authoritarian follower to ignore what is happening around them and be unable or unwilling to take appropriate action in response. The article below describes how authoritarian blindness played a role in the Chinese government’s early response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Summary: A  strange cluster of patients from a local seafood market, which also sold wildlife for food consumption, started showing up in Wuhan, China hospitals in early December 2019. Patients developed a fever and pneumonia that did not seem to be caused by any known viruses. Within weeks, the hospitals in Wuhan knew that the coronavirus was spreading among humans. 

Doctors on the front lines warned about the disease but were ignored and sometimes punished.  Some  medical workers contracted the mysterious disease. One doctor died. On January 1 police reported they had punished eight medical workers for spreading “rumors” 

For several more weeks, the Chinese government continued to suppress information, rather than to listen to the medical workers, learn, and take appropriate action. On January 23, after letting the coronavirus spread for nearly two months, the Chinese government imposed a drastic lockdown. Today, nearly 700 million Chinese citizens are living under one form of restrictions.

Authoritarian Blindness

“If people are too afraid to talk, and if punishing people for ‘rumors’ becomes the norm, a doctor punished for spreading news of a disease in one province becomes just another routine day rather than an indication of impending crisis.” 

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