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Campaigning for facts

Trust Is Good, Creating Trust Is Better

By Peter Metzinger

On International Fact-Checking Day, a few thoughts on the roots of the evil that makes fact checks necessary in the first place. Why do we need fact checks at all?

A lot has been written lately about how pandemic deniers and trivializers, anti-vaxxers and so-called Corona skeptics are now defending Putin’s war of aggression against Ukraine. At the same time, they trivialize cruel human rights violations by the Russian army. As a justification, they use the history slippery slope in Putin’s propaganda channels.

While there has been some speculation as to why this is so. However, in my opinion, too little attention has been paid to the issue so far.

CORRECTIV for example writes about this (in German)

“At first glance, most of them go against the mainstream…”

Hidden in this quote is a possible cause: a general distrust of traditional media financed by taxes or advertising.

WHAT DO THESE ISSUES HAVE IN COMMON?

Digging one layer deeper, one realizes that behind this distrust is actually a general distrust of Western governments, agencies, media, and corporations.

The fact that Corona skeptics and Putin-understanders often also believe and spread misinformation about man-made climate change and the new mobile phone generation 5G also speaks in favor of this.

What else could connect these completely different topics if not a general distrust of governments, authorities, media and corporations? But where does this come from?

Unfortunately, the distrust is quite justified. An authority that, contrary to all scientific knowledge, spreads the word that masks do not protect against infections, only to introduce a mask mandate a few months later, does not deserve our trust. At least not when there is a deliberate lie. If you lie once, you do not deserve to be trusted. The same applies to corporations, among which – as everywhere – there are black sheep. Their missteps are often portrayed by sensationalist media in such a way that a considerable part of the population gets the impression that the entire economy is corrupt or otherwise shameful.

So the distrust of corporations and our governments is quite justified. But it also leads, as a consequence, to the rejection of facts and scientific findings when they are represented by a government or a corporation.

Instead, the self-proclaimed skeptics in search of the truth, then rather believe so-called “alternative media”. For these offer a new home and identification through their criticism of governments, authorities and corporations. This feeling of home then prevents supposed skeptics from questioning the “alternative media” just as critically as the “official” channels.

In support of this hypothesis is the result of a study (in German) that looked at why 5G opponents are hard to convince by facts:

That many people are skeptical about the new mobile communications standard is not based on facts. Rather, a lack of trust in government agencies is a key hurdle to 5G acceptance. (Source: Higgs)

Another hypothesis is that the common source is responsible.

False information about COVID-19, vaccinations, climate change, 5G, and more recently the war against the Ukrainian people has been spread quite significantly through the same channels for years. Quite a few of them are Russian propaganda channels. These serve Putin’s regime to divide and destabilize the West by means of targeted disinformation.

The Kremlin calls this “Hybrid Warfare” or, more trivially, “Public Diplomacy“.

This hypothesis also cannot be dismissed out of hand, because in the end it is Russian propaganda channels like RT and others that are used by authority skeptics as so-called “alternative media”. There they stock up on “alternative facts” which they then disseminate. They do this, in the fatally mistaken belief that they are saving the world and defending freedom, and yet they have exactly the opposite effect.

False information can never be the basis of good decisions.

WHAT CAN WE DO IN THE FIGHT FOR THE TRUTH AND AGAINST DISINFORMATION CAMPAIGNS?

Similar to climate change and the pandemic, the fight for truth, for the values of enlightenment, and against disinformation requires cooperation among a wide variety of actors and levels. The guiding principle is that it takes a long time to build trust, but only seconds to destroy it. Here is what could and should be done:

  • Governments and agencies must provide honest and transparent information at all times. In doing so, they must neither conceal facts nor present them in such a way that they appear in a better light. This is all the more true the more uncomfortable the truth is. Errors must be admitted directly, voluntarily and immediately. Spin doctors have no place in government communications.
  • Journalists and their superiors must not be tempted to embezzle important information to make a piece of information appear more sensational in order to increase sensationalism. The truth is usually boring. Nevertheless, it is worth reporting correctly, conveying all relevant facts. To ensure that it is read, creativity is allowed in the headlines. However, it must be remembered that many people only read the headlines and get the wrong picture if the headline is only focused on spectacularity.
  • We should all be fundamentally skeptical of all sources of information and remain skeptical. The more sensational the news sounds, the more we must be on our guard. At the same time, we must not be discouraged by mistakes. They happen to everyone at some point. I myself fell for a piece of news yesterday that AC/DC were going on tour together with Guns n’ Roses. Yet yesterday was April 1….

April 2 is International Fact-Checking Day, to remind us that even after April 1, we should distrust any spectacular news. But the same is true on April 3 and every other day of the year.

Finally, a tip: Wikipedia explains here how to reverse image search works.



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