The truth about disinformation

Dr. Norman Bailey

Factual refutation is helpless against deliberate disinformation. We need different tactics against this plague of our time.

Of the many scourges the world is currently subject to, one of the worst is the proliferation through modern means of communication, of highly dangerous disinformation.

First, some definitions: information is the communication of what is purported to be factual knowledge; misinformation is the innocent communication of false (counter-factual) knowledge; disinformation is the purposeful communication of knowledge known to be false for the purpose of influencing the beliefs and/or actions of the recipients. In other words disinformation is a category of misinformation differentiated from innocent misinformation by the motivation of the disseminator.

A simple illustration: Until Columbus sailed west beyond the horizon and didn't fall off the world, but rather reached the Western Hemisphere and returned safely, the vast majority of humankind had believed that the world was flat. Why? Because our eyes told us that. Human sight is limited to a maximum of about 50 miles, which is too short to see the curvature of the earth. Obvious--the world is flat. Unfortunately for the believers, wrong. Innocent misinformation is refutable by demonstrable contrary factual knowledge.

A very common example of disinformation is the statement "Israel is an apartheid country". This statement is demonstrably false to anyone walking the streets of Israeli towns and cities or having a coffee in an Israeli cafe, but because it is disinformation, not innocent misinformation, it cannot be refuted by fact.

This weaponization of information is not new--it has been going on for centuries. What is new is the technology now available for the instantaneous and widespread dissemination of disinformation through modern technology, particularly the so-called "social media". The social media companies ("big tech") have, in an incredibly short time, grown to massive proportions and its effects are immediate. They are also almost totally without regulation and certainly without conscience or a sense of responsibility.

Finally, the technologies involved are now extensively used by countries such as China, Russia, and Iran, as well as by noxious non-state actors, such as terrorist organizations and criminal syndicates.

These activities cannot be successfully combated by factual refutation, as noted above. Therefore, reactive tactics will predictably fail. The only defense is offense. Disinformation cannot be combated by refuting it. On the contrary, and counter-intuitively, time and resources should not be expended on trying to do so. It should be ignored, and time and resources should be diverted into the positive dissemination, using the same contemporary technologies, of the truth.

Disinformation is one of the most significant among various current threats to Western Civilization and society. Time is of the essence and resources are limited. Those engaged in the defense of western values should repeat to themselves over and over again: "And the truth shall make you free".

Dr. Norman Bailey is professor of Economic Statecraft at the Galilee International Management Institute, and adjunct professor at the Institute of World Politics, Washington DC. Dr. Bailey was a senior staff member of the National Security Council during the Reagan administration and of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence during the George W. Bush administration.   

Published by Globes, Israel business news - - on October 25, 2021.

Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd., 2021.

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