Mistaken Fools Versus Lying Schemers

October 4, 2021

We must distinguish between misinformation born of honest, if foolish, mistakes and deliberate disinformation. Writer Mike Masnick makes that point in, “The Role of Confirmation Bias In Spreading Misinformation” at TechDirt.

If a story supports our existing beliefs we are more likely to believe it without checking the facts. This can be true even for professional journalists, as a recent Rolling Stone article illustrates. That venerable publication relied on a local TV report that made what turned out to be unverifiable claims. Both reported that gunshot victims were turned away from a certain emergency room because ivermectin overdose patients had taken all the beds. The story quickly spread, covered by The Guardian, the The BBC, the Hill, and a wealth of foreign papers eager to scoff at the US. Ouch. According to the healthcare system overseeing that hospital, however, they had not treated a single case of ivermectin overdose and had not turned away any emergency-care patients. The original article was based on the word of a doctor who, they say, had not worked at that hospital in over two months. (And, we suspect, never again after all this.) This debacle should serve as a warning to all journalists to do their own fact-checking, no matter how plausible a story sounds to them.

Though such misinformation is a serious issue, Masnick writes, it is a different problem from that of deliberate disinformation. Conflating the two leads to even more problems. He observes:

“However, as we’ve discussed before, when you conflate a mistake with the deliberate bad faith pushing of false information, then that only serves to give more ammunition to those who wish to not just discredit all content from certain publications, but to then look to minimize complaints against ‘news’ organizations that specialize and focus on bad faith propaganda, by simply claiming it’s no different than what the mainstream media does in presenting ‘disinformation.’ But there is a major difference. A mistake is bad, and everyone who fell for this story looks silly for doing so. But without a clear pattern of deliberately pushing misleading or out of context information, it suggests a mere error, as opposed to deliberate bad faith activity. The same cannot be said for all ‘news’ organizations.”

An important distinction indeed.

Cynthia Murrell, October 4, 2021


Comments are closed.

  • Archives

  • Recent Posts

  • Meta