Commentary

Good News About Media Misinformation

The thing about misinformation is, it's been around a long time. So when Rand Paul is caught on video speaking to a class of students and extolling the virtues of fake news, saying “misinformation works” and “is a great tactic,” we can't entirely disagree with him.

Put aside the fact that he's now a sitting U.S. Senator and seems to be willing to bring his own PsyOps tactics to bear on the American public and our health and well-being. That moral question is one he'll have to face on his own terms.

But using untruths to influence opponents isn't new, and it isn't going away. What's changed is the massive reach of social media publishing platforms, and who has access to the tools of distribution and amplification. Mass communication allows an audience of consumers direct communication with the population, and social media allows for campaigns of disinformation and misinformation to spread like an uncontrolled virus. Yes, COVID comes to mind.

So there’s no simple answer or silver bullet that will simply shut off misinformation. In part, agreeing on a definition of what fake news is isn't simple. If you believe that the COVID vaccine isn't necessary or that the 2020 election was unfairly decided, there's going to be no amount of preaching that will change your mind. 

Still, there’s some evidence of good news on the horizon. Direct TV, owned by AT&T, has made the decision to toss far-right One America News off its platform. "We informed Herring Networks (OAN's owner) that, following a routine internal review, we do not plan to enter into a new contract when our current agreement expires," a Direct TV spokesperson said in an email statement to Reuters. Ninety percent of OAN's revenue came from AT&T, so that's tens of millions of dollars that won't be fueling the rage-amplifying network. 

More positive news: Fox [News] on-air commentator Dan Bongino has had his YouTube privileges revoked after his posts went crosswise with YouTube policies. YouTube updated its rules in 2020 to prohibit "content about COVID-19 that poses a serious risk of egregious harm." Videos with medical misinformation that contradicts local health authorities, such as the World Health Organization, are now banned. Bongino is only suspended for a week, but the next suspension will be 90 days -- and if he gets another strike within 90 days, he's banned from YouTube.

Eighty fact-checking groups have listed four ways YouTube could combat the rampant spread of misinformation on its platform. In an open letter to YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki, The International Fact-Checking Network named YouTube as "one of the major conduits of online disinformation and misinformation worldwide." YouTube has yet to respond, saying only in a statement to Mashable that "Fact-checking is a crucial tool to help viewers make their own informed decisions, but it's one piece of a much larger puzzle to address the spread of misinformation."

And Spotify has received an open letter from 270 U.S. doctors, scientists, healthcare professionals, and professors alarmed about medical misinformation on the Joe Rogan podcast, listed as the platform's most popular program. The letter asks the platform to "establish a clear and public policy to moderate misinformation on its platform," and called Rogan "a menace to public health." Menace indeed. The letter ended with this stinging rebuke: "This is not only a scientific or medical concern; it is a sociological issue of devastating proportions, and Spotify is responsible for allowing this activity to thrive on its platform."

Individually, these are news stories. But collectively, there is a drumbeat as professionals steadfastly demand accountability, and platforms begin to respond.

The federal government is also starting to consider how it can ask platforms to take responsibility, while understanding that these networks are private companies and legislation that sets limits on free speech has potentially dangerous consequences.

Said President Biden in his most forceful call to the social media platforms to date:  "I make a special appeal to social media companies and media outlets: Please deal with the misinformation and disinformation that is on your shows. It has to stop. COVID-19 is one of the most formidable enemies America has ever faced. We have got to work together, not against each other."

The crisis of misinformation wasn't created overnight, and it won't be solved quickly or easily. Instead, companies, individuals, and government will each have to do their part to push back on false information being shared and amplified. Working together, we can replace fiction with facts.

5 comments about "Good News About Media Misinformation".
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  1. Paul Bledsoe from Bledsoe Advertising/Productions, January 21, 2022 at 10:33 a.m.

    Wow, I'm impressed. You are a part of the collective media world that wants to quell free speech. How can other people's thoughts and research be silenced? I'm sure it's easy when you have an enormous platform, and it's easy to just click them away or pull the plug, that's quite unfair and totalitarian.

  2. Steve Rosenbaum from NYC Media Lab replied, January 21, 2022 at 10:49 a.m.

    totally support free speech - so, for example, when you write "I have a hard time understanding that you like others look at the "few" who stormed the Capitol Building and classify all attending the rally as a part of the insurrection." as you did in a previous post, I think that comment should stay up, even though the 'rally attendees brought a gallows, bear spray, handcuffs, electric cattle prods, bulletproof vests, and other weapons. I'm sure that anyone who was there, or watched the video, or heard the testimony of the law enforcement officers who risked their lives and live now with the trauma might have something to say to you. So yes, I'm fine with AON being silence - as broadcasters of misinformation - that is what they deserve.

  3. Kirk Augustin from Mr., January 21, 2022 at 12:18 p.m.

    Censorship is always totally wrong.  If everything is allow, then the truth will win. 


    And regardless of fact I am extremely left wing, progressive, liberal, I have to agree with Ron Paul about covid masks and vaccines.  They do not work and only make the death toll higher.  


    The vaccines they rushed for covid do not contain any virus.  Instead they have instructions that take over your cells and make you ribosomes start your own cells growing spike proteins.  While that can temporarily stimulate antibody production, it can not possibly get into long term immunity memory.  Those claiming it can, are obviously lying. Science says it is not lasting more than 6 months.

    With masks, we have 2 strategies to select from for any epidemic.  If very lethal, you select full quarantine because it is fast.  And that can use masks.  But if you do not use full quarantine, then the only remaining solution is herd immunity to end it quickly, through accelerated infection.  There is no third choice.  And masks are harmful once we rejected full quarantine.  They prevent herd immunity by conserving hosts.  That makes an epidemic last FOREVER.

  4. Kirk Augustin from Mr., January 21, 2022 at 12:25 p.m.

    @Steve Rosenbaum, wrong.  The fact the rioters were wrong about the election, is totally irrelevant.  They deserved to have their opinion heard, regardless of being wrong.  All the violence was caused by the police and Congress refusing to hear them.  


    It is congress that is criminal, with things like Prohibition, the War on Drugs, mandated sentences, asset forfeiture, WMD lies about Iraq, etc. It is congress who should be in jail.

    The things the rioters brought were obviously spontaneous and not evidence of an "insurrection".  There was no real "gallows", just some 2x4s, and "hanging in effigy" is a time honored tradition.  It is you who are trying to push a false agenda.  They were just naive.  You should know better.

  5. Steve Rosenbaum from NYC Media Lab replied, January 21, 2022 at 12:50 p.m.

    Tell you what - how's this. you post your home address here or email me, and I'll come over to your house and build a platform out of two by fours and put a rope on it and see how you feel about it. Cause, you know, it's just for a laugh - don't mean anything by it - just fooling around. I might even bring some white hoods and we can wear them. How's that - free speech - you ok? When can I come by? 

    Honestly, our comment is beyond crazy. 

    As long as you're listing all of Congress's crimes, what about the Bush Tax Cuts, the Trump Tax Cuts, the The Military Budget - and allowing China to take over Walmart? 

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