Misinformation and accountability frameworks

More focus is put nowadays on capturing your attention rather than presenting the objective truth. Truth has no emotion, so how can it make up for a good story? It seldom does, therefore it seldom sells.

Caves at sundown
Photo by Bruno van der Kraan / Unsplash

There have always been incentives to share misinformation. History is full of such examples. What is different today is the easiness with which you can do it. This created a world where truth can be masterfully omitted or disguised, more often than not, intentionally, with as little effort as typing 280 characters.

Virality is an attribute of the emotion, not information. What you say has little factual importance if you push the right buttons. In this regard, the only difference between now and Orwell’s 1984 is the fact that we are not re-writing history (yet). I fear the world where the effort to discern the truth far outweighs the commodity of merely ingesting what is being fed to you.

Knowingly spreading misinformation should hold one accountable by law. Especially if the person doing it is in a position of power or great influence. Such acts must not be tolerated since the world cannot survive a misinformed, science-denying, and truth-oblivious intransigent minority dictatorship.

I state the above should be enforced whenever one intentionally engages in such actions for their own benefit or the pure pleasure, without verifying or providing data that can back the claim, and with potentially critical consequences for their peers.

In short, a framework for public accountability in regards to what one says.

With the above in mind, I want to address the idea that this, somehow, limits free speech. I believe that what I have stated does not, in any way, do that. Knowingly spreading misinformation that puts other people in danger or takes advantage of their condition, is not free speech, but manipulation. I am against that, and that only. The burden of proof is always on the one speaking. If what one is sharing (with full awareness) has no proof, is beyond ridiculous, is potentially harmful if looked at from various angles, is omitting crucial information, is slicing information without providing the entire context so much that it transforms its meaning entirely, is known to have been scientifically invalidated, etc., then one has failed to do due diligence, and, in doing so, one may have caused harm to others. That should, in my opinion, be reason enough for legal action.

Three things I will end with. For starters, “knowingly” is probably the most important word in this article. Anyone can make mistakes. A world intolerant to them scares me at least as much as one where truth is voluntarily concealed. Legal consequences should come only after awareness of one’s actions and their consequences have been undoubtedly proven.

Secondly, we must still define objective truth (admittedly an impossible task in many ways). If two diligently conducted scientific studies contradict themselves and are at the opposing ends of a spectrum, which one is be believed? I have some ideas in this regard, but they will be the subject of a different article. However, I believe that, for the majority of group-addressing acts, where the audience is also possibly lacking specific knowledge, we can, with a high degree of certainty, define objective truth.

Lastly, social media, the most prominent medium for spreading information, favours the drama of a mistake over reconciliation. It is why we seldom read/hear "I was wrong". I advocate for more leniency towards this, especially if intentionality was not proven.

Until we, as a society, will figure all the details out, I advise you to fact check, as well as publicly call out any incorrect information you come across.

Read and research, so you can understand. Understand, so you can educate. It is everyone’s job.