Wavelength Weekly

— a weekly collection of reporting and research on disinformation —

In this edition of the apparently not-so-weekly “Wavelength Weekly,” we begin with two writings on how our current epistemological crisis helps makes disinformation and misinformation so pervasive. The authors also provide some ideas on how we might address the fundamental challenge of knowing truth in the present age.

In a world where “Do the research” has become a rallying cry used against truth, librarian Barbara Fister argues that existing media or digital literacy curriculum largely focused on teaching research skills is insufficient to confronting our epistemological crisis. How information is created, spread, and used by others must be taught as well. This will be a challenge, Fister notes on The Atlantic, saying…

There’s no doubt that it will be difficult to shift the information-literacy narrative from an emphasis on finding, evaluating, and using information in an academic setting to something that addresses a broader understanding of how information flows through systems. Our information systems operate in a complex world in which messages take root in dark corners and spread rhizomatically through connections that are usually hidden from view, a world in which power users discover hacks to trip up algorithmic systems in ways the authors of the algorithms failed to anticipate, a world in which the rules of the game change constantly while the consequences of systems designed to share information virally pose a serious threat to democracy.

“The Librarian War Against QAnon” by Barbara Fister, The Atlantic, Feb. 18, 2021

Relatedly, Elizabeth Seger, a researcher at the University of Cambridge and the Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence, writes on BBC Future about how “more attention ought to be paid to ‘epistemic security’ – because without it, our societies will lose the ability to respond to the most severe risks we face in the future.”

“The greatest security threat of the post-truth age” by Elizabeth Seger, BBC Future, Feb. 9, 2021

Next, we have an account of how quickly deceptive information can spread. Adrienne Goldstein and Eli Weiner, research assistants in the Digital Innovation and Democracy Initiative at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, provide a moment-by-moment chronicle of the spread of the deceptive narrative that frozen wind turbines caused catastrophic power outages during the recent Arctic cold in Texas.

“How the Disinformation Supply Chain Created a Deceptive Narrative about the Texas Blackout” by Adrienne Goldstein and Eli Weiner, GMF Digital, Feb. 19, 2021

Finally, we end with a roundup of familiar as well as emerging disinformation tactics used against recent Alexei Navalny-inspired anti-corruption protests in Russia by First Draft‘s Yevgeny Kuklychev.

“Innovative information disorder tactics target Russia protests” by Yevgeny Kuklychev, First Draft, Feb. 19, 2021