I’m interested in incorporating the mechanisms and ramifications of disinformation into the current novel I’m working on. But as I work on fleshing out plotlines and characters and text one question, in particular, keeps nagging at me: who’s liable for disinformation and its effects?
What is disinformation?
Disinformation is false information that is intended to mislead people, especially propaganda issued by a government organization to a rival power or the media. I’m sure there are more complex definitions for disinformation, but this one will do for this post for now.
Who cares? one might think. Disinformation and propaganda have always been around. And if a few gullible people want to believe it and fall under its spell, that’s their problem. I’m not worried about it, and I won’t fall under its spell. I’m too smart and well-informed for that. But, not so fast, a different person might say…
Why does disinformation matter?
It’s equally important to consider that we now live in the Information Age and Digital Age. An age in which data (YOUR personal data) is one of the most valuable commodities on the planet. Your personal data (that you willingly provide, BTW, via apps and user agreements you don’t actually ever read because who has time for that, and oh well…) is traded by companies. And they do this mostly without your knowledge and input.
And in the US, where there aren’t currently any consequential data ownership laws for individual people, it’s incredibly easy for them to do this. So, these companies then use your personal data to their advantage, to sell you things and services, to make money. Because why wouldn’t they when in a capitalist system? Which still, might not seem like a big deal because, oh well, you think, you’re receiving ads and information that’s more relevant to you personally anyway. But…
What if your personal data is also shared with or sold to organizations and entities who want to sell you ideas for profit or power, or both? Ideas about what and who is safe and dangerous, and what and who you should fear and or fight? Ideas about what freedom and democracy really are, and who will endorse those ideas on your behalf even if that person has never done anything to indicate he or she would, etc.? And you don’t know that they’re doing this, or how?
That seems to matter.
Important sources to read RE notable disinformation campaigns:
- Council on Foreign Relations. Influence Campaigns and Disinformation
- U.S. Department of State. Russia’s Top Five Persistent Disinformation Narratives
- The New York Times. Cambridge Analytica and Facebook: The Scandal and the Fallout So Far. April 4, 2018.
- The Guardian. The Cambridge Analytica Files.
- The New York Times. At Least 70 Countries Have Had Disinformation Campaigns, Study Finds. September 26, 2019.
So, who’s liable for disinformation?
It can’t be contested that disinformation exists. And it can’t be contested who many of the main perpetrators of it are. But, who should ultimately be liable for managing it?
As I work on my novel and flesh out its characters and what they do, I wonder whether any of them can actually manage, or maybe even eradicate, the online disinformation that’s doing so much damage in their world. Should they want to, and is it realistic? Or should the government be liable for disinformation… or those in the publishing industry… or those who own and operate the online social media platforms on which it’s spread?
As of right now, my novel includes characters who are in the government. It also includes a journalist. And there’s a character who runs a social media platform. So, which one of them will ultimately be liable? Which one of them will lead the charge in managing and or eradicating online disinformation? And will they be successful?
I have yet to decide.
What do you think and why? I wanna know! Leave a comment below or on Facebook so we can chat.
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