Archive for July, 2010

Disinformation & Poor Information

July 22, 2010

This week we have another example of how disinformation can adversely affect the public good.  USDA director of Rural Development in Georgia, Shirley Sherrod, was forced to resign after a conservative commentator, Andrew Breitbart, released a video clip that appeared to show Ms. Sherrod had made racist remarks earlier in her career.  The problem was that the complete video showed just the opposite.

Meanwhile, the aftermath of the controversy  is pushing other, more important concerns out of the public view.  The public is not learning the reality of what is happening and what is really important to them.  This is the real damage caused by disinformation.

However, this episode shows the value of quickly digging out the truth and sharing it.  But even with swift response, truth tellers cannot undo all of the damage done by disinformation.  Some people will only hear the initial reports and may never has access to the corrections if they get their news only from sources that promote such disinformation.

Meanwhile, for weeks, we had been getting poor information about the BP oil gusher in the Gulf of Mexico.  First reports gave the spill rate of the gusher at 5000 barrels per day.  It was weeks later that the true rate of spill was acknowledged to be many times that.  How can we solve a problem if we don’t know the magnitude of the problem?

I continue to believe that if enough people have accurate, up-to-date information, the right thing will happen.  But I also believe that it takes constant vigilance to recognize and counter disinformation and poor information.

This is another reason that we need protect Net Neutrality and promote open, high speed internet access for everyone.