Making sense of misinformation part three: Is misinformation getting worse?

This is part three of a three-part series of Lynn PR Misinformation Cell mini-blogs about misinformation. If you’d like to learn more, why not join us for our upcoming webinar on the subject?

Is misinformation getting worse?

The short answer is yes. The misinformation challenge has grown over the last ten years for a variety of reasons. 

Probably the most significant change over the last two decades has been our ‘information environment’. While the vast majority of us once got our news from a small number of common, trusted sources, billions of people around the world are now getting their news through their news feeds on social media. This ‘news’ can be produced by anyone, anywhere in the world. Importantly, with the new tools in web design and the platform provided by social media, it’s easy to produce content that has the look and feel of reliable, mainstream news. 

In addition to this, the social media algorithms which determine what content we see on these news feeds are programmed to promote content which will keep us on the platform for longer (driving profits) rather than content that will keep us well informed.

We can also understand why it’s gotten worse when we think about conspiracy thinkers, and what makes people vulnerable to conspiracy thinking. 

There are 3Cs that increase vulnerability to conspiracy thinking:

  • Comprehension: When we are faced with more information than our brains can handle we’re vulnerable to conspiracy theories because they help us to connect all these unconnected dots – which our brains are wired to do from an evolutionary perspective.
  • Control: If we’re faced with a crisis (like a pandemic!) conspiracy theories leverage our desire for control by pointing the finger at a scapegoat for us to focus our fear and anger on.
  • Community: When we are isolated from the social groups our brains are hardwired to crave, we are vulnerable to the pull of conspiracy theory communities which provide us with a sense of comradeship.

The COVID-19 pandemic has bombarded us with new information about the virus, taken away our sense of control and deprived us of our sense of community – making an already bad problem worse.

If you haven’t already, go back and read part one and two of our ‘Making sense of misinformation’ series (‘What is misinformation?’) and (‘Why are people falling for misinformation?’) To find out more about how our anti-misinformation services can help your organisation, email contact@lynnpr.co.uk.

This article was written by Stefan Rollnick, Head of the Misinformation Cell at Lynn PR.