What Masuda, McLuhan, Mattelar, Toffler and Castelss pales on is the risks derived from a hyperconnected society, which ended up unleashing a boomerang that plays against science, technology and society itself, boosting aberrations in the field of mass communication.
Are We Witnessing a Disinformation Society?
By: Gabriel E. Levy B.
Around the year 236 before Christ, the famous philosopher and mathematician Eratosthenes observed the shadow produced by the sun’s rays during the summer solstice in two places far enough from each other: Syene and Alexandria, devising a method to calculate the diameter of the earth’s sphere with only two data: the angle of incidence of the sun in Alexandria at the summer solstice and the distance between them. Thus, using a simple rule of three, he was able to calculate the length of the circumference of the Earth.
Some 1700 years later, financed by the Spanish crown, the navigators Ferdinand Magellan and Juan Sebastian Elcano organized an expedition that took more than three years to complete, circumnavigating the Earth and empirically confirming that the Earth was not flat, but indeed round, as mathematically demonstrated by Eratosthenes.
In 1968, Astronaut Bill Anders took the first photograph of planet Earth from Apollo 8, leaving irrefutable evidence.
For the XXI Century there is probably no other truth as difficult to refute as the circumference of our planet; however, and contrary to all possible logic, political and religious extremist groups, making use of the same information and communication technologies that have placed us on the cusp of computer developments, created a movement called Terraplanism, which claims that the earth is flat through disinformation strategies and intensive use of ICT, convincing thousands of people of this fallacy.
The Communicational Aberrations Introduced by Brexit
It took several decades, many generations of leaders, thousands of meetings and negotiations to build a common European market, one of the greatest achievements of cooperation between historically rival societies, which gave way to a new Europe, much better linked, connected, communicated and fair.
However, the destruction of this historic effort, required only a few months and an intensive disinformation strategy, which, through social media, Fake News and the unethical use of algorithms, managed to convince millions of people to vote in favor of the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from this great agreement, a consequence that is still not possible to quantify. The movement called itself BREXIT and was promoted mainly by political leaders of the British far right.
Infodemic in Times of COVID
The term Infodemiology was proposed by the Canadian Gunther Eysenbach, and arises from the combination of the terms information and epidemic. This concept serves as an umbrella to describe the proliferation of totally false or partially incorrect health news on the Internet, based on the observation and management of information resulting from health issues, especially epidemiological ones, in the context of the Information Society, a concept that was enhanced by the emergence of the Covid19 pandemic in the years 2020 and 2021.
As the days have passed, the Infodemic has become a headache almost as difficult to control as the pandemic itself, from misinformation with miracle drugs, through conspiracy theories to the potentially most serious situation: The Fake News surrounding the vaccination process and putting at risk the immunity of the herd in many countries where the population resists in a significant percentage to get vaccinated, as a consequence of unfounded fears; a phenomenon that has been enhanced by the movement also based on the disinformation of the self-proclaimed: Anti-vaccine.
Infodemic is a perfect example of how misinformation puts millions of people around the world at risk in one of the most sensitive and complex areas, such as public health.
In many cases these movements have arisen inspired by conspiracy theorists, religious extremist leaders, and by extreme right-wing leaders such as Bolsonaro (Brazil) or Trump (USA), countries where the worst indicators of crisis management and the highest level of contagion rates were presented in 2020, due to the refusal of their leaders to listen to the recommendations of scientific experts in the field, and in many other cases using fake news as government public policies.
The Relativization of Truth
According to experts at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, quoted by MIT Technology Review, deepfakes were increasingly convincing and difficult to differentiate among ordinary citizens in the 2020 U.S. presidential election.
“Deepfakes do pose a risk to politics in terms of fake media appearing to be real, but right now the more tangible threat is how the idea of deepfakes can be invoked to make the real appear fake. The hype and rather sensational coverage speculating on deepfakes’ political impact has overshadowed the real cases where deepfakes have had an impact”.
Henry Ajder expert of Deeptrace Labs quoted by MIT Technology Review
The Relativization of Evidence
Suppose a politician is caught red-handed receiving a bribe and the main evidence is a video recorded undercover, with some technical problems where the character is identified and his voice is heard, when the scandal breaks out this politician might argue that it is a kind of deepfake and that everything has been a manipulation to destroy his reputation, sowing doubt that his followers would take advantage of to generate confusion in social media and eventually no one could know for sure if it is real or not.
The same could happen with any type of information or news, generating an unprecedented contradiction: Instead of having an informed society, we will have a confused and probably paranoid society regarding the veracity of facts, triggering a level of relativity of objectivity that could erode the very foundations of society.
Since the beginning of this century, the prominent academic Ignacio Ramonet stated that: “When we have reached the optimum of information, we will have reached the maximum of disinformation, due to saturation ”. A futuristic vision far ahead of its time, which anticipated many current voices, especially from civil organizations and various experts in disinformation, who have expressed their concern, as they consider that most of the efforts made by regulators, governments and technology companies have focused on assessing “the ease through which technology can make false things look real”, but have ignored the second problem: “Although the limits to create deepfakes are rapidly disappearing, questioning the veracity of something does not require any technology at all”.
“It is another weapon for the people in power: responding with ‘It is a deepfake’ about anything that people who are out of power try to use to show corruption.”
Differentiating between reality and fiction has always been something complex for citizens without greater educational skills, but undoubtedly the challenge of the coming years will show an unprecedented confusion, which will go beyond the traditional ambiguity and will affect not only the common Internet user, but also people with professional training, and will even make exercises such as journalism more complex, which will have to incorporate computer skills to ensure objectivity, so the challenge that governments and telecommunications companies will have to face will be monumental.
In conclusion, disinformation in all its forms and manifestations will undoubtedly be one of the biggest headaches and threats that the contemporary world will need to face in the next decade. Not only because of the large amount of false content that will emerge, but because this type of content will make us begin to doubt any kind of information, completely distrusting the data accessible on the network and the media, which would call into question any evidence that hits the interests of the most powerful people, becoming an unprecedented potential threat to global democracy, making it clear that if someone managed to question the roundness of the earth, any topic could be used to manipulate the masses and make doubt the reality itself, being the only known possible antidote: Education.