The Age of Misinformation

I’m reading Nate Silver’s ‘The Signal and the Noise‘ at the moment. A section of the introduction struck me in the context of how incorrect information spreads rapidly online today. Discussing the Gutenberg press and its impact on the spread of information, Silver points out that an inadvertent effect was:

Errors could now be mass produced, like in the so-called wicked Bible, which committed the most unfortunate typo in history to the page: thou shalt commit adultery.

Meanwhile, exposure to so many new ideas was producing mass confusion. The amount of information was increasing more rapidly than our understanding of what to do with it, or our ability to differentiate the useful information from the mistruths.

It strikes me that we are seeing the same challenge today, whereby the majority of people see something controversial and share the content, without looking into it at all.

For example, I recently spotted a story on Twitter about Samsung paying a billion dollar fine to Apple in pennies. That sounds too good to be true I thought and sure enough, one quick google search later and I found out it was an urban legend. What was particularly interesting was the story dismissing the rumour that I found was published in August 2012, yet almost a full year later the gossip is still doing the rounds on Twitter.

Despite being in the age of modern communication, misinformation is spreading faster than ever before. Whether it’s false accusations of Lil Wayne dancing on the American flag or people thinking a potentially racist parody of a Kmart ad was a genuine advert, it’s a real challenge for comms professionals across the world to deal with. An Irish company, One4All, recently had to spend a six figure sum to combat a rumour which started on Facebook that it was in financial difficulties.

So much for the golden age of communications. Welcome to the age of misinformation.

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Piaras Kelly
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