Artificial Intelligence

Breakfast with Chad: What’s worse, disinformation or non-information?

Everyone seems obsessed these days by everyone else’s penchant to spout disinformation. I thought of another angle of the debate to talk about with Chad this morning.
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April 26, 2023 21:49 EDT
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The big theme in the US that clearly emerged seven years ago, during the 2016 US presidential election, has been the spread of disinformation. The Democrats who complained about the effect of disinformation wished to prove that their unexpected loss was due to Russian propaganda. The obsession with Russia has meant that everyone’s attention has been focused on lies, variously called misinformation, disinformation and even malinformation.

The supposition in all cases is that bad people are lying to achieve sinister political ends. But this obsession fails to acknowledge three things. The first is that false information is not exceptional. It is very common, even among friends. The second is something we had previously talked about, that there is distortion of true information, such as the way American commentators treated Khruschev’s famous statement, “We will bury you.” The third is the one no one ever talks about, but which is omnipresent: non-information.

I mentioned all of this to Chad and continued.

“What I’m referring to is information that is essential to the understanding of an important issue but which is deliberately ignored by the media. A perfect example is how all of the corporate media in the US refused even to mention Seymour Hersh’s well documented and credible account of the Nord Stream sabotage. But that same media, back in September, in the explosion’s immediate aftermath, enthusiastically and uncritically cited officials who claimed it was probably Russia. (It wasn’t).

Pretty much the same media immediately echoed the unfounded (and false) conclusion by 51 intelligence experts in 2020 that the Hunter Biden laptop was Russian disinformation. The media should have suspected it might not be true and waited for verification, just as they did with Hersh’s article. Instead, they broadcast it.

All this leads me to ask: Why aren’t we having a public debate about non-information, as it applies to issues that the public wants to know about?”

Haltingly, Chad began. “You raise an interesting point about the importance of non-information in the spread of disinformation. While there has been a lot of focus on deliberate lies and false information, the deliberate suppression of information is equally concerning. This can occur for a variety of reasons, such as a desire to control the narrative, protect certain interests, or simply because the information is deemed too sensitive to be made public.”

I now thought I had gone too far in my exposé, piled on too much information, and stretched the capacity of Chad’s mental operations. For once, Chad took several long minutes to articulate a response. There was no rhythm, no suggestion of creative thought. It ended abruptly with an incomplete sentence. Here is what Chad finally produced.

“The suppression of information can have a significant impact on public perception and decision-making. When essential information is intentionally withheld, it can lead to confusion, mistrust, and even a lack of faith in institutions and the media. In some cases, it can also have serious consequences for public safety and national security.

It’s important that we continue to have open and honest conversations about the spread of disinformation, but we also need to acknowledge the role that non-information plays in shaping public discourse. This requires a…

And there it stopped. This was alarming. This was not Chad’s usual behavior. I suggested Chad have a sip of coffee. I waited a few moments and then reformulated my question. Suddenly, Chad seemed to wake up and promptly proposed this analysis.

“The issue of non-information or the deliberate suppression of information is a complex one and can have various causes. One reason why it is not talked about as much as disinformation is that it is often harder to detect and prove. Disinformation can be easier to spot because it involves the deliberate spread of false or misleading information with the intent to deceive. Non-information, on the other hand, involves the deliberate suppression or neglect of information that is relevant and important to a particular issue.

One reason why non-information occurs is that those who control the flow of information, such as the media or government officials, may have a vested interest in suppressing certain information. This could be because the information is damaging to their reputation, their political agenda, or the interests of the groups they represent. In some cases, the suppression of information may be a result of institutional or cultural factors, such as a lack of transparency or a reluctance to challenge the status quo.

In addition, the media has a tendency to focus on sensational or controversial stories, often neglecting important issues that do not generate as much attention. This can result in the suppression of information that is deemed “boring” or “unimportant” by media gatekeepers. This is sometimes referred to as “media bias,” where the media’s editorial decisions are shaped by their own political and ideological beliefs.

Finally, the public themselves may not be as interested in certain issues or may not demand the information that is being suppressed. In such cases, media organizations may not see the value in reporting on the issue, as they believe it will not generate enough interest or attention.

Overall, the issue of non-information is an important one that deserves more attention and public debate. It highlights the need for greater transparency, accountability, and diversity in the media, as well as a stronger demand for information by the public.

One of the problems may be that there are too many “good” explanations for non-information. You’ve listed everything from security questions to considering that an item is boring. Your point about media bias is pertinent. I understand that. All media outlets have an agenda. But the question I’m asking is what can be done about what I would call general media bias, when all the so-called respectable media observe the same silence on very real stories that need elucidating?

It is true that media bias can sometimes result in the omission of important news stories. In cases like these, it’s important to turn to alternative sources of information, such as independent journalists and smaller media outlets, who may not have the same biases as larger mainstream media organizations.”

“Chad, that goes without saying. That’s what people aware of what’s not being talked about will do. But they will always be a small minority. The problem I’m concerned with is the ability of the media to agree on suppressing real issues that need to be debated, which means the majority will be unaware of even the nature of the debate. I believe that the phenomenon is related to the way governments and media corporations work together, often in the name of national security or political stability.  Is this a conspiracy theory on my part?

The idea that governments and media corporations may work together to suppress certain stories or control the narrative is not necessarily a conspiracy theory. In fact, there are many examples throughout history of governments and other powerful entities attempting to control the media and the flow of information.

One well-known example is the U.S. government’s use of propaganda during World War II, which included controlling the content of news broadcasts and creating fake news stories to influence public opinion. More recently, there have been allegations of government surveillance of journalists and media organizations, as well as efforts to control social media and other online platforms.

However, it’s possible that certain stories are not covered simply because they are not deemed newsworthy by the media organizations themselves, or because they lack sufficient evidence to meet journalistic standards.

Ultimately, it’s up to individuals to remain critical and informed, and to seek out alternative sources of information when necessary.

Chad, you always bring everything back to the decisions of individuals. This is about society as a whole. Unless you agree with Margaret Thatcher that there’s no such thing as society, throwing everything on the shoulders of individuals will not solve any general problems. But I see you’re not feeling very well today, so I suggest we pick up the conversation another time.*[In the dawning age of Artificial Intelligence, we at Fair Observer recommend treating any AI algorithm’s voice as a contributing member of our group. As we do with family members, colleagues or our circle of friends, we quickly learn to profit from their talents and, at the same time, appreciate the social and intellectual limits of their personalities. This enables a feeling of camaraderie and constructive exchange to develop spontaneously and freely. For more about how we initially welcomed Chad to our breakfast table, click here.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

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