IN all times of great collective excitement, either euphoric or tragic, unfounded rumours obtain wide traction. While Israel is continuing with its unbridled genocide in Palestinian territories, a separate unconventional battle is keeping it busy in trying to control the media narrative as it desperately wants the world to believe its point of view.
It is even spreading disinformation to manipulate public opinion. A fabricated video, purported to show a BBC report that weapons provided by Nato to Ukraine have been sold to Hamas, was recently posted on social media. Having said that, Israel is not alone in spreading disinformation. The modern era is more about disinfor-mation than information. The field of information technology (IT) has actually become disinformation technology.
Human actions have purposes. Individuals spread disinformation when it flatters their self-esteem or when there are economic incentives for spreading false information. Humans usually give too much importance to their selves, and believe those stories that show them in some kind of superior light. Some people want to be admired and mentioned constantly in the press so they share false opinions if doing so generates more clicks.
Governments all over the world are also disseminating disinformation to legitimise themselves. Governing elites try to convince the masses that they are the most suitable governors and they are not motivated at all by self-interest. One of the main causes of human misfortune is that they are prone to falling victim to calculated manipulation.
Governments also use cyber troops to conduct disinformation campaigns and for the amplification of favoured narratives. Cyber troops are actually government actors tasked with the manipulation of public opinions online. Various political parties in Pakistan are using them to increase their supporters.
Generative artificial intelligence (AI) tools have made the production of fake news cheap. It is hard to believe the news provided by traditional media outlets, too.
Their reporting may not be unbiased. After the Al-Ahli Hospital blast, various Western media outlets supported the Israeli account, though they found nothing that could even remotely substantiate such allegations.
American news network MSNBC suspended Muslim anchors from having screen time after Hamas launched an offensive against Israel because their views could differ from those that the bosses endorsed.
The offline consequences of pervasive disinformation are harmful. Propa-ganda and disinformation have produced a polarised and ill-informed society. Governments have succeeded in producing fanatical nationalists who think that the interest of their nation is necessarily opposed to that of another.
The hate against other nations and religions has increased. A six-year-old Palestinian-American child was killed by his landlord. Man has become man’s worst enemy. The present state of the world shows that scientific progress without corresponding moral and political progress has only increased human sufferings.
Individuals, governments and social media companies can do many things to curb disinformation. Governments have produced a population of fanatical lunatics.
They can easily produce reasonable citizens, too, by giving freedom to teachers, and urging them to teach the truth and instil in students the habit of impartial inquiry.
It will be hard to manipulate people who have critical thinking skills. European Union promulgated the Digital Service Act to penalise those social media platforms that expose users to harmful and false content. Social media platforms, like X (formerly Twitter) and Facebook, can reduce fake news by being transparent. They should disclose the details of political advertising and the use of bots on their platforms.
Elon Musk’s decision to dissolve the Trust and Safety Council, which helped curb fake content, was wrong. Individuals can also tell whether some information is false by arming themselves with facts.
The post or article may not be true if it is a promoted post and if there is no genuine engagement on the post. In addition, individuals should be wary of the opinions that flatter their self-esteem even if they add to their feel-good factor.
Published in Dawn, November 20th, 2023