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The BBC’s Phoney War on Disinformation


Kathleen Stock has written an excellent piece in UnHerd taking issue with the latest work of the BBC’s ‘Disinformation and Social Media Correspondent’ Marianna Spring, accusing her of spreading ‘disinformation’ in her own right.


In an interview and an accompanying feature published this week, Marianna Spring reiterates a narrative about Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter that she first aired on Panorama a few weeks back. According to Spring, online disinformation and hate speech is getting worse, and it’s the responsibility of social media platforms to regulate it more heavily.


Like me, Spring receives a lot of online misrepresentation and criticism in her professional role. Indeed, she frequently uses such experiences as a superficially compelling peg for many of her stories. Despite our similarities, though, I remain unconvinced by her case for strong regulation. More than that: through observing her output, I’ve become convinced that the BBC should not have a specialist “Disinformation Correspondent” at all.


In this week’s interview, Spring described her job for the BBC as “interrogating how mistruths or trolling or abuse online can affect real people, and then to investigate and hold to account the social media companies, policy makers, law enforcement…”. At face value, this may seem like a fairly standard quest for a journalist, albeit a noble one — a bit like investigating fraudsters or corrupt politicians, in order to bring their misdeeds and lies into the light.


But there’s at least one big difference. A journalist investigating fraud, but who accidentally misidentifies either what fraud is or the people committing it, doesn’t thereby become guilty of the very thing she is investigating. In contrast, a Disinformation Correspondent who misidentifies disinformation, either positively or negatively, runs the risk of disseminating disinformation herself — and is arguably all the more harmful because of the status implied by her position.


Perhaps it could be rejoindered that disinformation is not the same as misinformation. Whereas misinformation consists in the unwitting dissemination of false statements believed to be true at the time, disinformation is the knowing introduction of false statements with the explicit intention to deceive people. In other words, with disinformation, there is an intent to deceive. That’s a reasonable distinction to make as far as it goes; the problem is that it’s utterly useless in helping us analyse the growing problem with conspiratorial and magical thinking in the world. It also has no relevance to most of the things reported on by Spring.


The capacity of human beings to cling to incredible beliefs in a self-serving way, while being blind to blatantly contrary evidence, is well-established. And given this capacity, it’s very hard to know whether conspiratorial thinking has been propagated in the cynical knowledge of its falsehood. For instance, those in charge of Russian botfarms churning out what liberals call “pro-Putin propaganda” probably half-believe their own falsehoods. The originator of the New World Order conspiracy theory almost certainly believed his. Even bonkers theories like the lizard people one were probably started by the mad rather than the bad. Ironically, the persistent belief that there is a lot of disinformation in the world, in the sense of deliberately deceptive lies, is itself a kind of conspiracy theory. For some people, it seems much easier to believe in the organised and deliberate deception of others than in the chaos of accidental human fallibility.




Source:  Daily Sceptic

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