When the means of communications change, societies change, though not always in the ways intended or expected. The printing press revolutionized society, though some of the change was backwards rather than forwards.
“There is no evidence that, except in religion, printing hastened the spread of new ideas… In fact, the printing of medieval scientific texts may have delayed the acceptance of Copernicus,” Elizabeth Eisenstein wrote in her book, The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe. Might it be that with more readily available information, European scientific progress, at least initially, stalled and went backwards?
It is said that humans are not rational animals but rather rationalizing ones. We often find what is comfortable for us to believe and then look for the information that will justify these beliefs. How else could we explain the recent worldwide growth in the Flat Earth Society? You would think that with so much irrefutable evidence readily available on the Web such crazy ideas would be in decline. The opposite is happening.
“Researchers believe they have identified the prime driver for a startling rise in the number of people who think the Earth is flat: Google’s video-sharing site, YouTube,” The Guardian reported in 2020. On the Web, it seems that misinformation is battling with information and that misinformation is often winning.
Misinformation is certainly helped by those with a bottomless greed and lust for power and dominance. Mark Zuckerberg has decided that Facebook’s continued growth strategy is to profit from misinformation and fake news. ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ is how Mark thinks. ‘We’ve made so much money already from fake news, why would a growth-at-any-cost company like Facebook change when it’s winning?’
Misinformation feeds off human emotion. Those in power can’t resist pushing the emotional buttons. It is so easy to manipulate people by calling to their most basic instincts. Fear, hate, violence and ‘common sense’ are powerful drivers. Why, it’s common sense that the earth is flat. Just look out your window. It’s flat, isn’t it?
Science recovered from the flood of dodgy medieval scientific texts. The answer to misinformation is information. We are seeing a growing awareness and understanding of the impacts of humans on the climate and overall planet. There is a hunger out there for evidence and facts.
Organizations face a major challenge in how to manage their information. We have created vastly greater capacities to create data and information than we have to error-check, organize and present it. For every delusional Flat Earther there are many more looking for the facts, looking for the evidence.
Quality information has never been more vital. Transparency has never been more vital. A core tactic of the misinformation and fake news gang is to look for weaknesses in information and news. Then they scream that the information and news are fake.
Part of the reason we are in the state we are in is because we have been too dependent on technology to manage information. We have stopped investing in core human skills built up over centuries to ensure the quality and integrity of information. We used to call these professionals editors.
We need new types of human editors, who are able to work in tandem with technology and the collective intelligence that the Web has unleashed. This is how we will achieve quality, accuracy, transparency, and clarity and simplicity of communication.