COVID-19

The pandemic of misinformation and manipulation

The pandemic of misinformation and manipulation

The problem is not that everyone has an opinion. That is an inalienable right. What is not a right is impunity to lie, to download an endless stream of fake news, lies, falsehoods. And less than in the name of press freedom they exercise scandalous debauchery to irresponsibly misinform, mounted in media terrorism campaigns. No, there is no such "freedom" to spread death.

The "journalists" of the hegemonic media vociferate against those who do not agree with their interests (and, above all, those of their employers); They insist on silencing at times and at other times in defaming their opponents, hiding all information that may expose the businesses (and even the crimes) of their employers to public light. And they repeat the same doses of poison the same, expanded.

It is easy to self-categorize as a "journalist": today anyone who speaks or writes in a medium is considered as such, anyone who has a blog (with a lot or few "likes") claims to fall into that category and / or profession.

But they are mere propaganda operators at the service of the great economic conglomerates, some, of the strategies of the hegemonic powers, others, in this fourth or fifth generation war, where the main weapon in this post-truth era is to impose collective imaginations.

Their weapons are sensationalism, biased approaches, omission of reality due to political alignment, to try to impose their virtual realities. The sad thing is that the public tends to give more credibility to fake news than to its denials. These are times of infodemic, of permanent circulation of false information tending to increase panic, which spreads faster than covid-19.

Miraculous cures, conspiracy theories, imminent catastrophes, stranded by social networks and disseminated as true by the media, fake-nes (that is, lies) circulate and reproduce at the same rate as covid-19. Uncertainty and fears are exploited, but the manipulation of political interests is also exposed. A burgeoning market for false information has resurfaced.

The various issues related to the pandemic are treated in most media as a binary question, by yes or no. The hegemonic media - and, unfortunately, also some alternative ones - dedicate themselves to trivialize everything.

Eat garlic, drink alcohol, the virus is transmitted through 5G lines ... These and some other falsehoods run on the internet, television, social networks. Untrustworthy and false information is spread virally to the point of putting many lives at risk.

It is also the nest where scammers proliferate. The damages that misinformation produces and that are always very severe against the entire social fabric, wherever they occur. This phenomenon of misinformation is putting lives at risk, as there are people with symptoms of being sick from the coronavirus who try unproven remedies in the hope of "curing" themselves.

Studies by the Observatory on Communication and Democracy confirm that catastrophic fake news penetrated much more in adults than in minors. Well, in those under 30 (and even 50), who know that the virus, at least so far, has carried away 99% of people over 70.

So, this relaxation that is shown for example in Europe, perhaps shows the selfishness of the “young”, who know that it is very difficult for them to die of coronavirus, although they can infect their parents or grandparents. The most scared are those over 70 years of age, although these people –Ivan González reminds me- suffered from hunger and terror, almost newborn after the world war.

Crisis / opportunity

The covid-19 virus is our enemy, we are all at war against it. But every crisis brings an opportunity. In this case, seeing that this development model, based on the plundering of nature, is coming to an end, and changing it is a survival problem for those who survive (shall we survive?) The coronavirus.

Will it be the beginning of a new historical cycle, a window for it, a change of time and civilization, with social and environmental justice? There are forces, especially from below that move, that want, fight, need change. But other forces that - hand in hand with the imposition of collective imaginaries - create a false dichotomy between economy and life and began opting for denialism.

Most of the world's population lives in situations of risk, and the pandemic shows that governments can no longer argue that there is no way to prepare for these health emergencies, so that they do not become social problems.

Certainties are sought

There is a growing demand for solutions, for certainties, from the population and, in general, governments almost always limp on the side of information and communication. The obsessive way of acquiring information is a way to calm down, to control an environment that has become hostile and chaotic, says Ernesto Calvo, professor of Government and Politics at the University of Maryland.

To think that when he received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1976, Gabriel García Márquez said that journalism was the best profession in the world! (Undoubtedly it was in those days of teletypes, pre-internet and cartelized media).

The plausibility of fake news is enhanced by public concern and (sometimes despair) and the lack of scientific information: how are the processes of treatments, cures, diagnostic kits, measures of social distancing. And there are people, even government officials, who take advantage of the general ignorance and even promote drugs that do not cure the coronavirus, but that can constitute a good business.

In times of pandemic, news consumption increased, especially TV. People trust the media and their coverage of Covid-19 more than politicians (they accuse them of misinforming). The fear of misinformation, the famous fake news, is increasing, and they claim that they are given more on Facebook and WhatsApp than in other applications. Distrust reigns everywhere, also on the Internet.

Guy Berger, Director of Policies and Strategies on Communication and Information at UNESCO, points out that at a time of great fears, uncertainties and unknowns, there is fertile ground for fabrications to flourish and grow. The great risk is that any falsehood that gains momentum can undermine the importance of a set of true facts.

Some people mistakenly believe that young people or Afro-descendants are immune (all with a racist or xenophobic tone), or that those who live in hot climates or countries where summer is on the way, do not have to worry too much. The likely consequence of these lies is that it could lead to more premature deaths.

This pandemic has exposed the skeleton of the system and it is now impossible to conceal the intentions behind the supposed measures of authoritarian governments to face the crisis and it is sad to see how some professionals, some of impeccable reputation, fall into these games of political juggling and end up supporting the most corrupt rulers, hand in hand with a complicit and complacent press.

They have silenced our societies with the ghost of contagion. People live in silence, fearful. Ghost that, even being real, has ended up becoming a parapet behind which all kinds of crimes are perpetrated, such as negotiating credits with the International Monetary Fund that will prevent even imagining a future.

And it remains for citizens to pour their frustration on social networks, in an innocuous catharsis for their plans to dominate State structures, networks that, in any case, have been co-opted for a long time.

Glossolalia

The reasons for spreading disinformation are many and include political goals, self-promotion, and attracting attention as part of some business model. Those who do, play with emotions, fears, prejudices and ignorance.

It might seem strange that the leaders of countries as important as the United States or Brazil have tried to systematically downplay the importance of the current pandemic or even deny it, interpreting it as an opportunity to consolidate leadership, and as an opportunity to restrict political freedom, in the case of an authoritarian project.

A sample button: China's Alibaba is the world's largest internet sales company, offering person-to-person, firm-to-person, and inter-firm sales with a truly global reach. Its new international sales campaign is to offer new models of coffins: simple, with organdy pillows, with embroidered quilts, all padded and with a matching sheet.

Boaventura de Sousa Santos points out that for those who, like Donald Trump, Jair Bolsonaro or Matteo Salvini, are used to glossolalia, the irruption of the real is a ruin, because it imposes the urgent search for discourses that can coordinate a common meaning-action.

Glossolalia is the fluid vocalization of syllables without any understandable meaning. In some religious beliefs such as Pentecostalism, where this practice is known as the gift of tongues, such sounds are considered a divine language unknown to the speaker.

During the pandemic, the techno-scientific system has not only been untouched, but has demonstrated its power in another way: the conjunction of fear and the techno-scientific order has shown all its power, while the hegemonic media speak of the imminent society of surveillance.

In 1603, William Shakespeare put these words into Hamlet's mouth: Nothing looks better than falsehood.

Aram Aharonian |Uruguayan journalist and communicologist. Master in Integration. Founder of Telesur. He chairs the Foundation for Latin American Integration (FILA) and directs the Latin American Center for Strategic Analysis (CLAE, www.estrategia.la) and susrysurtv.

Video: Seeing Through Misinformation During the Pandemic (October 2020).