The term misinformation was the word of the year back in 2018. When you think of 2018 what was going on in terms of politics and in the news? This CNN article highlights 110 things that happened in American politics in 2018 and of them a few stick out including the second women’s march, Parkland students becoming conspiracy theory targets among political social media influencers, and activists, and of course a plethora of Trump quotes and related issues that are just as utterly embarrassing and pathetic as they did in the moment, but even more so now, looking back at a list of them. As I dive deeper into why misinformation is spread by the people who spread it, it’s important for me to define the term for those who may not know what exactly it is in relation to disinformation.
Misinformation, as defined in the Washington Post article explaining why it was the word of the year with help from Dictionary.com, is “false information that is spread, regardless of whether there is intent to mislead.” whereas disinformation on the other hand is deliberately spread with an intent to mislead others. That is why it is important these terms not be used interchangeably. With that being said, a lot has happened since 2018, and thankfully Twitter took action against Donald Trump and his ability to further the spread of mis- and disinformation by banning him from the site all together after the storming of the capitol which he incited amongst his followers with his rantings on Twitter. This NPR article goes into further detail about his suspension. But while Trump had a huge part in the issue, he isn’t the only person to blame as easy as it would be to just pin it on one person. There are a lot of variables and reasons why people share misinformation and a lot of times it can be a family member or a person sharing something they think is funny while others see it as being real. It’s a real issue especially on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.
This brings me back to the larger question at hand which is how misinformation has impacted me and the people I know? One of the biggest issues that we have faced as a society in the past 4 years is of course the COVID-19 pandemic. The global pandemic kickstarted a plethora of misinformation because so many people didn’t know who to turn to, who to trust and what to do in this situation. I remember when it began I was working at a hotel in Santa Rosa, CA and our HR manager was in charge of how to roll out the new health requirements for all employees including wearing a mask every day to work, wearing gloves when interacting with guests, testing regularly if we feel sick, socially distancing, etc. My mother was also retiring from her job as Director of the Trinity County Health and Human Services department after about 32 years working in public service. Because of her and what we were seeing and reading about on the news at the time, we felt it was important to protect those around us and ourselves by masking up and getting tested and not going out as much. However, some co-workers I worked with at the time didn’t agree with these new rules due to their own personal ideals in combination with misinformation that was being spread to them from outside sources. They would try to explain to me why they didn’t believe in wearing a mask and it shocked me how deeply rooted these beliefs were to them. I won’t name the person who told me this, but one of my co-workers believed that wearing a mask was an “infringement of freedom rights and that to wear a mask was congruent with slaves wearing masks in the old south.” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing when I heard that and it puzzled me that someone could come to this conclusion. However, even more puzzling to me was where they had heard this and how they could believe in this so strongly. Sadly, this person was let go from the company because they refused to wear a mask and that was the end of it and it was upsetting to me because this person was a really hard worker and was good at what they did, but they were so entangled in the conspiracy theories of the pandemic and the misinformation that they had received that there was nothing anyone could say that would change their mind. It wasn’t long after that incident that I started to learn of more family members of mine and friends who refused the science behind COVID-19 as well as the facts and refused to listen to health officials. There were friends of mine who had family members passing away who didn’t believe in it until it was too late. So much tragedy, all from some conspiracy theorist or outside source who got through to them through misinformation. Global News shared in 2021 that Facebook or Meta, removed 18 million posts relating to COVID-19 misinformation. That is huge and gets me thinking about the people who viewed this misinformation as truth and lost their job or their life because they believed so deeply in the information they had seen on the site that turned out to be false.
In 2022 we still have a long ways to go to slow the spread of misinformation and educate those who have been hurt from it, but as long as we are more mindful of what we share and the people around us are as well, I think as a society it would help us heal.
Now, If I could pick a word of the year for 2022 I would want it to be GROWTH.