Why is this interesting? - The Information Disorder Edition

On misinformation, media literacy, and making sense of the flood

Eric Matthies (EM) has worked as a director, producer, and consultant across a number of genres—from large scale installations to major motion pictures, broadcast specials, web series, multi-platform content packages, site-based VR, world-building R&D, live events, and traditional documentaries.

Eric here. I am many things, but I am not a journalist. I am capable of acts of journalism, as we all are. Together with my partner Tricia Todd we’ve made two films that looked intensively at cases of the violent censorship of journalism, becoming actively involved in advocating for press freedom and media literacy along the way. This has led to a full time interest in the citizen’s role in journalism; seeking creative tools with which we can be better participants in the news ecosystem.

Last October I facilitated the DEFY APATHY! Rebuilding Public Trust in Journalism workshop in Washington DC, where the intention was to use art as a means of positively affecting some of the habits that drive distrust in news. One aspect of distrust we looked at closely was Information Disorder.

Information Disorder is generally understood as having three categories: Misinformation, Malinformation, and Disinformation. I feel that in our current climate, it is prescient to add a fourth; Infoxication (a flood of information so great it cannot be processed).

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Why is this interesting?

In this climate of infoxication, there’s a willingness to blame the media for all manner of ills. While there are ample reasons to be skeptical of mainstream news, they’re not entirely at fault. The news isn’t a feed-tube of information. Just like any diet, we are also responsible for it. We rely on journalism for factual input that informs decisions in our lives. In school we’re taught various techniques of verification that are central to the mechanism used in consuming, absorbing, and processing information. In our mediated online lives, verification is an easy step to forget. 

The speed at which we can all propagate opinion couched as information adds to the disorder. In the past decade the capability for individuals to produce, to persuade, and to promote has increased exponentially. As one of my fellow workshop participants Kenyatta Cheese has said, “the audience has an audience.” It can often feel like a race to pluck stories from the noise of the media machinery and add them to the noise of our social networks. Contributing verified, actionable signal is something to be valued.

Recognizing Information Disorder by learning the differences between misinformation, malinformation, disinformation, and infoxication affords opportunity to better discern what’s being looked at, listened to, or read. It also helps us to recognize our own confirmation bias when we reach for information and introduce it into conversation. Recognizing bias and disorder are stable, simple steps toward breaking free of echo chambers while remaining conscientious when making choices in processing and sharing information. 

In addition, there are some wonderful verification tools out there, mainly for journalists and academics. I’d love to see a “civilian” version of these tools emerge. Perhaps by understanding how to find and deploy them, it’s possible to develop better habits around information verification and sharing. Resources like First Draft News, The Dart Center and Bellingcat have worthy toolkits online. In the age of COVID-19, many event-specific reporting, fact checking, debunking and myth busting resources have become available.

Perhaps with the overview effect of COVID-19, as we begin to see forward with a new planetary perspective, our behavioral norms of gathering and sharing information will shift. It has always been incumbent upon each of us for that shift to be toward self-governance of the machinery we avail ourselves of in our quest for knowledge. (EM)

Photo Book of the day:

Sebastian Meyer’s Under Every Yard Of Sky; “weaves together a decade of Meyer’s reporting (in Iraqi Kurdistan) with his personal story of friendship and loss”. (EM)

Quick Links: 

Thanks for reading,

Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN) & Eric (EM)


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