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Conceived by SoundEagle🦅ೋღஜஇ in the year during which coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) became a pandemic ravaging humanity, Viral Falsity is a neologism that aptly reflects the centrality of human behaviour in perpetuating and accelerating not only the spread of communicable diseases via human settlement and migration, but also the dissemination of misquotations and disinformation through social media, news platforms and mass communication, thus polluting the mind, media landscape and information ecosystem to the point of inhibiting or impairing civil discourse, human rights, democratic governance, social cohesion, community psychology, critical thinking, critical consciousness and sociopolitical development.
Throughout the world, the seemingly relentless, inexorable move towards a principally digital, mobile and platform-dominated media environment has ushered in not just modern methods of instantaneous communication with high-speed, expeditious access to information and applications online through worldwide platforms such as search engines and social media, but also the rampant distribution of misquotations and disinformation from numerous sources and across social networks. “Lies spread faster than the truth”, and “[f]alse news can drive the misallocation of resources during terror attacks and natural disasters, the misalignment of business investments, and misinformed elections”, as concluded in a report investigating the spread of true and false news online. The age of information has indubitably spawned the age of disinformation and the rage of misquotations. As a consequence, many regions and countries are undergoing significant disturbances or seismic shifts in their sociocultural, political and media landscapes and information ecosystems.
As the third decade of the third millenium dawns, the skill and resolve for winnowing truth from falsehood have become more wanting in humans than ever before. Falsity trumps honesty; fallacy swamps clarity. In short supply and chronic retreat are the cognitive tools and intellectual acumen necessary to recognize the errors or defects propagated in quotations, statements and claims from numerous sources, including the media, academia, luminaries, dignitaries, celebrities, ideologues, politicians, pundits, stakeholders, advertisers, influencers, Internet users and bloggers, particularly in the era of misquotations and disinformation, numerous instances of which seem to be intractably stoking people’s partial or utter ignorance as well as growingly courting their emotional drives, biased attitudes, cardinal urges, primal impulses and tribal instincts. Riding on these naked vulnerabilities, the unprincipled, ambitious, acquisitive, illiberal, ruthless or predatory opportunists, ranging from (those who are) wrongdoers, miscreants, malefactors and reprobates to profiteers, disinformers, obscurantists, hatemongers, extremists, plutocrats and despots, are able to thrive with greater gusto, impunity or even savagery because there simultaneously exist four of the most insidious and corrosive conditions fuelled and intensified by media manipulation and Internet manipulation, whilst frequently exploited and exacerbated by a sizeable number of ideologues, demagogues, provocateurs, influencers, conspiracy theorists and political elites:
- The prevailing anti-intellectualism discounting the humanist value to society of intellect, intellectualism and higher education; opposing liberal principles, enlightened perspectives, consilient approach, ethical mindset and holistic thinking; and dismissing art, literature, philosophy and science as impractical, politically motivated, and even contemptible or reprehensible human pursuits.
- The cult of anti-expertise sentiment (fuelled by information democratization, intellectual egalitarianism and anti-intellectualism) manifesting as misguided distrust, dismissal and denigration of experts and established knowledge by those in the public and in office, where facts, data, evidence or risks are distorted, ignored, dismissed, fabricated or concealed, and opinions or even untruths are upheld or promulgated as facts by ill-informed, misguided, biased or corrupt citizens and officials alike.
- The politicization of science for manipulating public policy and pushing ideological agendas, especially when government, business or advocacy groups use legal, political or economic pressure to influence or interfere with the survival, viability, findings, reporting, interpretation and dissemination of scientific research, or to impinge on scientific and academic freedom, independence, transparency and accountability; or when empirical findings and expert recommendations from the academic, scientific or medical community are subordinated to or distorted by ideology, dogma, herd mentality, political expediency or corporate interests.
- The use of populism pitching “the people” against “the elite” and brazenly disregarding critical matters ranging from empirical accuracy and ethical integrity to social justice and national security.
These four conditions have coalesced to signify a widespread and deepening rejection of critical thinking and objective reasoning, and a significant rise of illiberal values resulting in the erosion of civil liberties, democratic principles, civil societies and social norms, whilst highlighting consequential aspects of social inequality and social polarization. As well as being intellectually and culturally deprived or polarized, many segments and cohorts of the population can be easily convinced or manipulated to defend, support or purvey the interests, beliefs, agendas and actions of those who propagate problematic quotations, statements or information intended to be factually inaccurate, misleading, erroneous, spurious or conspiratorial.
In such a fractious world inundated and strained by misquotations and disinformation, human beings are proving to be as fallible in their responses to global epidemics and global warming as they are vulnerable to their own mental traps, thinking styles, behavioural patterns, psychological tendencies and cognitive biases, as well as the formal fallacies (also called logical fallacies or deductive fallacies) and informal fallacies (also known as relevance fallacies, conceptual fallacies or soundness fallacies) contained in their judgements and within quotations and information.
The consequences, ramifications and corollaries of those aforementioned biases and fallacies often far exceed what people are able or willing to know, acknowledge, comprehend, control, curtail or circumvent. They result from mentalities and behaviours implicated in prolonged sociopolitical predicaments manifesting as widespread anomie and social polarization, which are worsened, exploited and confounded all the more by the (re)production of misquotations, misinformation and disinformation in the midst of post-truth politics, demagoguery, plutocracy, ochlocracy, oligarchy, kleptocracy, kakistocracy and narcissistic leadership. In that regard, let us promptly and unhesitatingly take a sobering look at the following rationale constructed by Owen M Williamson, a lecturer in developmental English, with trenchant but edifying words warning people against the lures and hazards of committing or contracting the identified fallacies, numbering nearly 150 and enumerated in alphabetical order in the Master List of Logical Fallacies, as if they are (persisting and replicating like) seductive memes, resurgent plagues, deep-seated infections, insidious contagions or communicable maladies capable of reaching pandemic proportions, so much so that whole countries or regions can be inflicted, blighted or overwhelmed by misjudgement, dogma, ignorance, hatred, bigotry, falsity, blind faith, moral turpitude, spiritual stagnation, epistemological impasse, social polarization, radicalization, fundamentalism, fanaticism and extremism:
Fallacies are fake or deceptive arguments, “junk cognition,” that is, arguments that seem irrefutable but prove nothing. Fallacies often seem superficially sound and they far too often retain immense persuasive power even after being clearly exposed as false. Like epidemics, fallacies sometimes “burn through” entire populations, often with the most tragic results, before their power is diminished or lost. Fallacies are not always deliberate, but a good scholar’s purpose is always to identify and unmask fallacies in arguments.
On the one hand, the dauntingly entrenched and often visibly worsening state of Viral Falsity is not just due to the ease with which falsehood can be instantaneously and widely disseminated online, but also owing to the dearth of timely mediations, consistent controls and effective sanctions aimed at deterring actors or agents from continually purporting, professing or manufacturing manifestly false accounts, even instantly falsifiable ones, especially those influencing or pertaining to critical issues or pivotal policies. On the other hand, peer pressure, powerplays, social sanctions and career consequences are some of the main drivers of headstrong investment in or obdurate alignment with (perpetrating) falsehood, even if certain outcomes are sufficiently dire or potent to lead the lemmings cheerfully off the cliff, all the more so in the absence of critical thinking, particularly when being divergent and avoiding pitfalls in the face of nearly everyone else being convergent and following expectations dramatically increase the likelihood of encountering disrespect, punishment or ostracization, and when the penalties for nonconformity tend to be markedly more severe and persistent than those for conformity. Given that the noise of competing needs and narratives has vastly amplified (inter)personal costs, cultural trends and sociopolitical outcomes since the advent of modern technologies and digital platforms, the search for and recognition of truth versus untruth have become much more urgent and essential, lest truth be even more liable to being drowned out by the cacophony of untruth.
The upshot of Viral Falsity in which the prevalence of falsehoods ranging from terminological inexactitudes to blatant fallacies has reached epidemic or pandemic proportions is that significantly more people are continually at risk of being preyed on and duped or manipulated by actors, agents or governments who disregard ethics, exploit public relations, exert financial pressure, execute political manoeuvres, enact problematic legislations, disrupt public discourse, obfuscate expert findings, unleash dubious or outrageous claims, normalize offensive speeches or discriminatory practices, or intentionally muddle the distinction between facts and opinions, so as to mislead or corrupt citizens, social media users, journalists, communicators, public figures, influencers or politicians into believing or spreading misquotations, misinformation and disinformation; and that the average persons, let alone whistleblowers or those who work in the service of (preserving or uncovering) truth, are much more likely to find themselves becoming a target of lies, rumours, hoaxes, astroturfing operations or post-truth politics involving personal attacks (including ad hominem, damaging quotations, trolling and flaming), misquotations, misinformation, disinformation, misrepresentation, sensationalism, fake news, alternative facts, conspiracy theories, pseudoscience, yellow journalism, historical negationism or anti-intellectualism.
Even though the major sources and principal arenas of misquotations, misinformation and disinformation are social media, information hubs and news channels, there have been plenty of indications that actors and agents, whether individual or state-sponsored, are increasingly sophisticated and resorting to instrumentalizing peopleʼs ignorance in or concerns about fake news as a means or pretext to stifle dissenting voices active on valid social channels and genuine news media promulgated by those operating in opposing sociopolitical spectra or those who endeavour to uphold empirical accuracy, ethical integrity, civil liberties, democratic principles, human rights, social equality or social justice. Draconian rules or oppressive laws are designed to gag, constrain, scapegoat or even ban individuals, organizations or institutions by perverting or even flouting implementations of laws and regulations governing (legal matters and rights pertaining to) journalistic investigations and libel cases, freedom of information and freedom of expression, transparency and accountability, as well as academic freedom and judicial independence; or by restricting, obstructing, disrupting or outlawing the communications platforms and activities of such individuals, organizations or institutions in flagrant disregard for the international guidelines stipulating that curtailments on (freedom of) expression, assembly and association should be demonstrably necessary, proportional and legitimate in their purposes. In essence, such unscrupulous actors and agents can indeed not just arbitrarily manufacture fake news by fabricating stories, altering contents, changing contexts, forging documents, falsifying data and misquoting statements to achieve their objectionable, iniquitous or nefarious ends, but also wilfully designate anything valid, genuine or legitimate to be fake news as a strategy for manipulating information, misrepresenting views, manufacturing dissents, twisting truths, spreading lies, sowing doubts, casting aspersions, shifting blame, deflecting attention, denying culpability, avoiding scrutiny, glossing over details, making sweeping remarks, engaging weasel words, planting and fostering rumours, feeding conspiracy theories, raising false accusations, and deploying smear tactics.
In the context of 🧠 Mind Pollution by Viral Falsity 🦠 caused by 💬 Misquotation Pandemic and Disinformation Polemic, whether or not such deplorable manoeuvres, malevolent fabrications and detrimental interferences originate from social, economic or political reasons, the ultimate cost or final jeopardy to society at large is that if or when even bona fide news media, upright officials and genuine experts who have been operating in relative autonomy with due diligence are forced into compromised situations in which their works and findings are arbitrarily politicized, misrepresented, suppressed or subject to Orwellian scrutiny and meddling by the “Ministry of Truth” in pursuit of power, profit, status or wealth through propaganda, chicanery and dominance, then the general public may not only lose trust and confidence in most or all content, but may also be much more likely to settle on whatever content that is espoused by their despots, promulgated by their demagogues, promoted by their influencers, championed by their idols, endorsed by their social networks, reinforced by social media algorithms, recommended by filter bubbles, intensified by echo chambers, and fermented by Hype, Bias and Affect. All over the world, across the whole gamut of human civilizations ranging from rich to poor countries and from repressive regimes to free societies, a large-scale transcultural and transcontinental existential pattern has emerged with remarkable clarity: that without the solid presence of and copious provisions for some independent entities propounding, upholding and maintaining truth beyond the fray of private interests, sectional agendas, partisan politics, competitive culture, corporate pressure, bureaucratic wrangling, systemic corruption, endemic discrimination and ideological warfare, there remains no escaping from the stark reality that a vast number of people will continue to be needlessly living a substantially constricted, prescribed, reactive and contingent existence at the mercy of (being not just trapped, isolated, exploited, manipulated or indoctrinated but also propagandized, hegemonized, radicalized or instrumentalized by) their circles of influence and available technologies. Long on corresponding with their hearts, short on engaging with their heads, and starved of consistent communications conducted via unadulterated forums or authoritative platforms fostering fact-checking, empirical accuracy, ethical integrity, civil discourse and civic virtue, more human beings are invariably locked into a dystopian scenario where All the World’s a Stage of Misinformation, which will persist in affecting perniciously and pervasively people’s views, beliefs and mental horizons about science, knowledge, expertise, education, religion, health, career, identity, lifestyle, politics, environmentalism, community values, civic responsibilities, intercultural understanding, international affairs and global issues, thus placing themselves at greater risk of undermining or impoverishing their social acumen, cultural capital, human rights, democratic privileges, information ecosystem, long-term sustainability, and the better angels of their nature.
The pernicious influences of misquotations and disinformation present severe consequences because the causes, effects and ramifications of misusing, misjudging or misinterpreting quotations and information, however invisible, unchecked and unacknowledged they may have been, can also include those arising from various mental traps, thinking styles, behavioural patterns, psychological tendencies and cognitive biases such as availability heuristic (also known as availability bias), ethnocentrism, anthropocentrism (also called humanocentrism, human supremacy or human exceptionalism), anthropomorphism, animistic fallacy, pathetic fallacy, reification (also known as concretism, hypostatization or the fallacy of misplaced concreteness), confirmation bias (also called confirmatory bias or myside bias), bandwagon effect, illusory truth effect (also known as the truth effect, the illusion-of-truth effect, the reiteration effect, the validity effect, and the frequency-validity relationship), truth by consensus, false-consensus effect (or false-consensus bias), overconfidence effect, selective perception, selective exposure, Semmelweis reflex (or Semmelweis effect), anchoring (or focalism), conservatism (or conservatism bias), denialism, reactance, anecdotal evidence, fallacy of suppressed evidence, positivist fallacy, Everest fallacy, Texas sharpshooter fallacy, illusory correlation, irrelevant conclusion (also known as ignoratio elenchi, false conclusion or missing the point), faulty generalization, hasty generalization (also called hasty induction, blanket statement, leaping to a conclusion, illicit generalization, fallacy of insufficient sample or generalization from the particular), glittering generality (also known as glowing generality), weasel word (or anonymous authority), jumping to conclusions (officially the jumping conclusion bias, and also called the inference-observation confusion), questionable cause (also known as causal fallacy, false cause, or non causa pro causa), fallacy of the single cause (also known as complex cause, causal oversimplification, causal reductionism or reduction fallacy), correlation-causation fallacy (often termed “correlation does not imply causation” or the Latin phrase cum hoc ergo propter hoc), implicit stereotype, fundamental attribution error (also called the correspondence bias or attribution effect), group attribution error, subjective validation (also known as personal validation effect), self-deception, self-serving bias (also called self-attribution bias), optimism bias (also known as unrealistic or comparative optimism), pessimism bias, positivity bias (or positivity effect), negativity bias (or negativity effect), hindsight bias (also called the knew-it-all-along phenomenon or creeping determinism), belief bias, belief perseverance (also known as conceptual conservatism), illusion of validity, outcome bias, choice-supportive bias (or post-purchase rationalization), historian’s fallacy, strawman fallacy, ad hominem (short for argumentum ad hominem), tu quoque (also called appeal to hypocrisy), quoting out of context (also known as contextomy or quote mining), cherry picking (also called card stacking, suppressing evidence, or the fallacy of incomplete evidence), begging the question, circular reasoning, Bulverism, prooftexting, association fallacy (including guilt by association and honour by association), fallacy of illicit transference (including fallacy of composition and fallacy of division), slippery slope argument, continuum fallacy, splitting (also called black-and-white thinking or all-or-nothing thinking), argument from ignorance (also known as appeal to ignorance, or argumentum ad ignorantiam), false dilemma (also called false dichotomy, fallacy of bifurcation, or black-or-white fallacy), false analogy, false equivalence, false balance, divine fallacy (also known as argument from incredulity or personal incredulity), moralistic fallacy, naturalistic fallacy, appeal to nature, appeal to tradition (also called argumentum ad antiquitatem, appeal to antiquity, or appeal to common practice), appeal to novelty (also known as argumentum ad novitatem), appeal to the majority (also called argumentum ad populum, appeal to the masses, appeal to belief, appeal to democracy, appeal to popularity, argument by consensus, consensus fallacy, authority of the many, bandwagon fallacy, vox populi, argumentum ad numerum (“appeal to the number”), fickle crowd syndrome, and consensus gentium (“agreement of the clans”)) and appeal to the minority (a special form of which is second-option bias), as well as appeal to authority or commit an argument from authority (also called argumentum ad verecundiam), authority bias and author bias. Some of these can be found in the following Cognitive Bias Codex.
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In short, the abovementioned heuristics, effects, biases, tendencies and fallacies stem from simple, intuitive, efficient rules, measures or schemas that people routinely use to judge and decide, insofar as they are mental shortcuts that largely involve concentrating on one facet of a complex problem and ignoring others, whilst filtering or filling the details with assumptions, approximations, constructs, prejudices, stereotypes and generalities that gel with people’s existing mental models. In other words, people characteristically fail to account for complexity and succumb to cognitive biases, since their perception of reality and understanding of the world comprise a small, narrow and ineludibly unrepresentative set of observations. Therefore, they are much more predisposed to concentrating on the pure, well-defined and easily discernible at the cost of disregarding the seemingly messier and intractable. As a result, people tend to gravitate towards the quicker, simpler, familiar, stereotyped or expected rather than the more important, challenging, complicated, unaccustomed or unpredictable, even if the latter ultimately results in better outcomes and processes, superior judgements and decisions, or worthier expenditures of time and resources. Consequently, whilst these heuristic rules or mental strategies may suffice under most circumstances, they can often lead people to commit systematic deviations from logic, probability, rationality, or even decency and morality, causing various errors in judgements and decisions. These errors can detrimentally affect not only people’s choices in their handling of quotations and information but also their choices in matters like valuing a house, marrying a spouse, evaluating a person, appraising a situation, choosing an investment, determining the outcome of a legal case, and (s)electing a legislative body, governing representative or political leader.
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As a critical writer and liberal thinker maintaining a productive blog named “The Psy of Life: Understanding the psychology that drives our politics” where SoundEagle🦅ೋღஜஇ sent him an invitation to share his thoughts about the increasing number of people being plagued by herd mentality, ignorance, dogma, falsity, blind faith, moral turpitude, spiritual stagnation and epistemological impasse, CalicoJack generously commented as follows about the evolutionary outcome and cost of cognitive biases and heuristics, which had benefited the survival of our distant ancestors living in the wilderness, but have become the very source and propulsion of maladaptive behaviours and social liabilities relentlessly impinging on those of us who exist by birth or choice as modern inhabitants in the complex, fast-paced, consumerist, hyperconnected and information-laden world, and persistently causing the unwary amongst us to be grossly misinformed, misguided, misdirected and perpetually vulnerable to devious or unscrupulous manipulation and exploitation by those who covet profit, power, status or attention with reprehensible means or motives. Should there continue to be little or no significant remedy, fundamental intervention, enforceable regulation or effective (re)education to curtail or minimize the adverse impacts and fallouts of cognitive biases and heuristics fuelled and exacerbated by Mind Pollution by Viral Falsity, a growing proportion of the human population will be in great danger of being trapped even more deeply in a downward spiral towards a thorny, bizarre, confusing or nonsensical state or situation, hopelessly and needlessly bogged down in protracted idiocy, recklessness, indiscretion, miscalculation, short-sightedness, irresponsibility, degeneracy, resentment, antagonism, conservatism bias, denialism, reactance, social polarization and anomie, ultimately leading to severe tearing of the social fabric and even self-destruction of the human race:
You hit upon an idea that I think is critical when we are considering these cognitive biases and heuristics. I think we have to accept that they evolved, and if they evolved, then we have to accept that they serve a constructive purpose. That purpose is two fold: (1) to allow us as individuals to make quick decisions without using too much of our energy — our brains are energy hogs using a full 20% of our energy. And (2) to help us live and function as a group. On the savannas where we evolved as hunter-gatherers a single human being was quite vulnerable, but a group was quite formidable. We absolutely had to live [as a] group to survive. Agreement was crucial to our survival, so we developed ways of interacting that allowed us to accept and rationalize points-of-view. The harshness of the environment tended to keep most of those views reality based and grounded. People who believed they could command a charging predator to stop tended to be eliminated from the gene pool, for example. Things that were less immediate, however, like communicable diseases, the thinking of the group could vary a bit because of the ineffectiveness of any response until germ theory was discovered.
Now, we find ourselves in a very different environment with an overwhelming amount of information about complex problems. Under these circumstances, many of our cognitive biases and heuristics work against us leading us down rabbit holes of ineffective response as we witness with the anti-maskers and anti-vac and other conspiracy theories.
The irony is that the cognitive biases and heuristics — along with the dietary proclivities of seeking sweet, greasy, salty foods — that allowed us to evolve to the height we’ve achieved today are threatening to destroy us. Unfortunately, we have cynical politicians who have discovered how to manipulate and exploit these tendencies and don’t really care how much harm they cause to the masses as long as they enrich themselves.
Overall, the workings of cognitive biases and heuristics seldom originate from what can be categorically deemed as a rational affair, an objective engagement or a systematic procedure. For example, our daily lives and routines are all too easily and frequently coloured by and conflated with our emotions, which are valenced reactions invariably intertwined with mood, temperament, personality, disposition, creativity and motivation. Unlike computers, machines, robots, automata and artificial intelligence, we as humans are hardly ever equipped with a clear default, tidy reset, handy reboot or even expedient reprogramming for recalibrating our minds to a neutral position to free us from (the costs and effects incurred by) our emotional baggage and aftermath. Throughout the waking hours, we are continually carried along by many psychological processes, mental habits and internal states, which can influence our judgements and decisions by stealth. Given that people are responsive beings whose current emotions (such as joy, pleasure, empathy, trust, pride, confidence, surprise, hope, fear, anger, anxiety, contempt and other conscious experience) habitually influence their decisions, it would be quite difficult to avoid the affect heuristic, which is a rapid, involuntary emotional response, a kind of mental shortcut described in Wikipedia as “a subconscious process that shortens the decision-making process and allows people to function without having to complete an extensive search for information. It is shorter in duration than a mood, occurring rapidly and involuntarily in response to a stimulus. Reading the words “lung cancer” usually generates an affect of dread, while reading the words “mother’s love” usually generates a feeling of affection and comfort.” In other words, affect heuristic is a simple, efficient rule that people often intuitively use to form judgements and make decisions such that “emotional response, or “affect” in psychological terms, plays a lead role”, insofar as the human mind is deemed to be a cognitive miser “due to the tendency of humans to think and solve problems in simpler and less effortful ways rather than in more sophisticated and more effortful ways, regardless of intelligence.” Moulded by affect heuristic, these (judge)mental shortcuts are helpful since they provide effort-reduction and simplification in decision-making to offset or compensate for the limited human capacity to process information comprehensively or exhaustively. Whilst such shortcuts assist people in quickly getting to where they want or need to be, many of the shortcuts can often increase the likelihood, risk and cost of people being sent off course, because people’s judgement and reasoning can be (subtly, surreptitiously or subconsciously) influenced and distorted by people’s affective state and their concomitant experiencing of feelings or emotions, which in turn can make people more partial, irrational, injudicious or susceptible to unscrupulous manipulation, deception or self-justification, and by extension, predisposing them to becoming willing perpetrators or fair victims of Misquotation Pandemic and Disinformation Polemic, given the prevalence and potency of both in fuelling and exacerbating Mind Pollution by Viral Falsity.
All in all, even though how we process quotations and information that come into our lives may often seem or feel to be a straightforward matter, the quality and quantity of quotations and information involved, and the kind of interactions and situations that we frequently find ourselves in or surrender ourselves to, can sometimes render us (much) more vulnerable to questionable influences or interferences, propelling us to compromise against our better judgement, luring us to act contrary to the better angels of our nature, or worse still, causing us to slip back into bad habits, mental traps, snap judgements, tunnel vision, stereotyped thinking and cognitive shortcuts that are inherently problematic, intrinsically fallible and logically inadequate, thus invariably leading us astray with flawed assumptions, deductions or conclusions to the point of committing serious fallacies, severe shortcomings, regrettable choices, reprehensible actions, grievous harms or calamitous decisions. Those who disregard or underestimate the roles, risks and impacts of cognitive biases and heuristics do so at their own peril.
Additionally, our cognitive biases can often be reinforced by social media algorithms and filter bubbles, whilst misquotations and misinformation as well as media bias and political bias in conjunction with media manipulation, Internet manipulation, misrepresentation and sensationalism inject additional layers of complexity to what our brains can realistically process. Considering the increasingly fractious nature of political opportunism, bureaucratic manoeuvring and power struggle in numerous regions of the world involving citizens, politicians and the media, the following infographic may serve as a concise visual reminder of how any one of the illustrated eleven cognitive biases can problematically engender, frame, distort, pervert or misrepresent some perspective, narrative, rhetoric, rationale or outcome pertaining to sociocultural or political matters:
The impacts and ramifications of misinformation and disinformation are so serious and widespread in the media landscape and information ecosystem that multiple international or intergovernmental organizations have cooperated via multilateralism to release a “[j]oint statement by WHO, UN, UNICEF, UNDP, UNESCO, UNAIDS, ITU, UN Global Pulse, and IFRC” published on 23 September 2020 in the article entitled “Managing the COVID-19 infodemic: Promoting healthy behaviours and mitigating the harm from misinformation and disinformation”, whose content is excerpted as follows:
The Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is the first pandemic in history in which technology and social media are being used on a massive scale to keep people safe, informed, productive and connected. At the same time, the technology we rely on to keep connected and informed is enabling and amplifying an infodemic that continues to undermine the global response and jeopardizes measures to control the pandemic.
An infodemic is an overabundance of information, both online and offline. It includes deliberate attempts to disseminate wrong information to undermine the public health response and advance alternative agendas of groups or individuals. Mis- and disinformation can be harmful to people’s physical and mental health; increase stigmatization; threaten precious health gains; and lead to poor observance of public health measures, thus reducing their effectiveness and endangering countries’ ability to stop the pandemic.
Misinformation costs lives. Without the appropriate trust and correct information, diagnostic tests go unused, immunization campaigns (or campaigns to promote effective vaccines) will not meet their targets, and the virus will continue to thrive.
Furthermore, disinformation is polarizing public debate on topics related to COVID-19; amplifying hate speech; heightening the risk of conflict, violence and human rights violations; and threatening long-terms prospects for advancing democracy, human rights and social cohesion.
Whether deliberate or not, many quotations and much information can be so problematic that they themselves become fallacies proffering untenable or inconclusive arguments, (in addition to) being too tenuous, flawed or fallacious to prove or support certain (view)points, agendas or conclusions. Such quotations and information need not be confined to, associated with or characterized as sophisms, which are clever but unsound arguments used with the intention to deceive or mislead. Indeed, the intention is of secondary importance when quotations and information by which people deceive or mislead themselves (as a result of reasoning flaws, wrong ideas, biased views, faulty judgements or mistaken beliefs) are much more dangerous, alarming, treacherous or undependable than the others, given that they are far more common than sophistries, whether quoted or shared online and offline. As a result, there has been a pandemic of misquotations, misinformation, false statements, misleading data, hasty generalization and glittering generality in the era and context of post-truth politics, fake news, disinformation, sensationalism, alternative facts, false reality, conspiracy theories, pseudoscience, yellow journalism, astroturfing, historical negationism and anti-intellectualism, readily created, condoned, manipulated, exploited, disseminated, consumed, believed or touted by not just narrow-minded, prejudiced, ill-informed, illiberal or misguided individuals (ranging from certain politicians, marketers, advertisers, influencers, media personalities, publicity agents, niche bloggers and lifestyle promoters to special interest groups, climate change deniers, conspiracy theorists, cultish believers, pseudoscience peddlers and anti-vaccinators as well as bigots, sexists, racists, xenophobes, hatemongers, disinformers, obscurantists, profiteers, malefactors, trolls, scammers and scoundrels), but also those who support, defend, practise or subscribe to demagoguery, ochlocracy, oligarchy, plutocracy, kleptocracy, kakistocracy and narcissistic leadership, often much to the chagrin or exasperation of many conscientious scientists, trustworthy experts, fair-minded citizens and far-sighted persons.
Historically, people have relied on journalists, librarians, curators, content specialists and other information professionals (also called information specialists) such as archivists, information managers, information systems specialists and records managers (who collect, record, organize, store, preserve, retrieve and disseminate printed or digital information in private, public and academic institutions) to relay facts and truths. Whilst many different matters and issues contribute to miscommunication, the underlying factor is information literacy, defined by the Association of College & Research Libraries as “the set of integrated abilities encompassing the reflective discovery of information, the understanding of how information is produced and valued, and the use of information in creating new knowledge and participating ethically in communities of learning.” The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) commences its explanation of information literacy under the banner of “Communication and Information” in bold: The Alexandria Proclamation of 2005 describes information literacy and lifelong learning as the “beacons of the Information Society, illuminating the courses to development, prosperity and freedom. Information literacy empowers people in all walks of life to seek, evaluate, use and create information effectively to achieve their personal, social, occupational and educational goals. It is a basic human right in a digital world and promotes social inclusion in all nations.” That information literacy is crucial for the healthy functioning of a society whose citizens are well-informed by being both proactive and effective in availing themselves of high-quality, accurate information is beyond any reasonable doubt and increasingly indispensable. The outcomes of information literacy are related to and complemented by those of traditional literacy, computer literacy, research skills and critical thinking skills. In particular, since information is distributed by various means and via multiple channels and platforms, it is often beyond the ability of users and the patience of consumers to gauge the credibility of what they are seeing or perceiving, especially if they have not been bolstered by or inoculated with information literacy as well as media literacy.
The dramatic shift to a predominantly digital, mobile and platform-dominated media environment has not only empowered citizens with instant access to information and applications online through worldwide platforms such as search engines and social media, but also enabled the distribution of misquotations and disinformation from a vast range of different sources. To make matters worse, falsity tends to have a much greater novelty factor and emotional impact than the truth does, so much so that lies and false news are considerably more likely to be shared far and wide by those who come across them. Published in Science Magazine and rated by Altmetrics as the second most influential scientific publication of 2018, the seminal report entitled “The spread of true and false news online” and co-authored by Soroush Vosoughi (assistant professor of computer science in machine learning, natural language processing, network science and social media analytics), Deb Roy (professor of media arts and sciences in applied machine learning and human-machine interaction with applications in designing systems for learning and constructive dialogue, and for mapping and analyzing large scale media ecosystems) and Sinan Kayhan Aral (the David Austin professor of management, IT, marketing and data science at MIT, director of the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy (IDE) and a founding partner at Manifest Capital) collaborating at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) demonstrates empirically that false news can diffuse up to two orders of magnitude (or a hundredfold) faster than the truth on Twitter via “investigat[ing] the differential diffusion of true, false, and mixed (partially true, partially false) news stories using a comprehensive data set of all of the fact-checked rumor cascades that spread on Twitter from its inception in 2006 to 2017” and “sampl[ing] all rumor cascades investigated by six independent fact-checking organizations (snopes.com, politifact.com, factcheck.org, truthorfiction.com, hoax-slayer.com, and urbanlegends.about.com) by parsing the title, body, and verdict (true, false, or mixed) of each rumor investigation reported on their websites and automatically collecting the cascades corresponding to those rumors on Twitter”:
Lies spread faster than the truth
There is worldwide concern over false news and the possibility that it can influence political, economic, and social well-being. To understand how false news spreads, Vosoughi et al. used a data set of rumor cascades on Twitter from 2006 to 2017. About 126,000 rumors were spread by ~3 million people. False news reached more people than the truth; the top 1% of false news cascades diffused to between 1000 and 100,000 people, whereas the truth rarely diffused to more than 1000 people. Falsehood also diffused faster than the truth. The degree of novelty and the emotional reactions of recipients may be responsible for the differences observed.
Science, this issue p. 1146
We investigated the differential diffusion of all of the verified true and false news stories distributed on Twitter from 2006 to 2017. The data comprise ~126,000 stories tweeted by ~3 million people more than 4.5 million times. We classified news as true or false using information from six independent fact-checking organizations that exhibited 95 to 98% agreement on the classifications. Falsehood diffused significantly farther, faster, deeper, and more broadly than the truth in all categories of information, and the effects were more pronounced for false political news than for false news about terrorism, natural disasters, science, urban legends, or financial information. We found that false news was more novel than true news, which suggests that people were more likely to share novel information. Whereas false stories inspired fear, disgust, and surprise in replies, true stories inspired anticipation, sadness, joy, and trust. Contrary to conventional wisdom, robots accelerated the spread of true and false news at the same rate, implying that false news spreads more than the truth because humans, not robots, are more likely to spread it.
Compounding the problems is that many users and consumers have come to depend on information sources not filtered or managed by information professionals, especially when opinion pieces trump factual reporting, when public respect for scientific authority wanes, and when entities proffering and preserving authoritative news and trustworthy information attenuate in number and influence as they are subject to adverse government meddling, sanction and even persecution, or are weakened by dwindling subscriptions and advertising revenues due to the ascendency of social media that allow original contents to be scraped from any sources and shared by users without permission or recompense. Even when information literacy and media literacy are not at issue, the quality, validity and reliability of information sources are themselves increasingly at risk of being undermined whenever media integrity and diversity have been tarnished or compromised by the preferences of an intended audience, the ownership of the news source, the subjective selection of staff, the concentration of media ownership (also known as media consolidation or media convergence) and the formation of media oligopoly or monopoly, all of which can dent the ability of media outlets to serve the public interest and democratic process, to resist institutional corruption within the media system, to withstand economic influence, political clientelism and conflicts of interest, and to curtail excessive instrumentalization of the media for particular corporate demands, political goals, partisan strategies or sectarian ideologies that are contrary to the democratic role of the media and detrimental to net(work) neutrality.
Polluting the terrains of information landscape and muddying the waters of social discourse, innumerable online sources of misquotations and disinformation use fraudulent techniques and unethical ways to fool users into thinking that dubious blogs, sham news sites, fake accounts, social bots, deepfakes, astroturfing operations and front organizations are legitimate and that the information generated is factual or unbiased. They also play significant roles in shaping (outcomes of) public opinion and social behaviour by acting as incessant and pertinacious influencers, manipulating people on social media platforms, supercharging memes and cultural trends, even limiting free speech, suppressing important messages, stoking animosity, dismantling trust and inducing chaos by creating a deluge of bogus accounts, fake identities, automated messages and social spams to deliver profanity, threats, hate speech, insults, damaging quotations, cyberbullying, clickbaiting, social hacking, malicious links, unsolicited content, misleading claims, fraudulent reviews, fabricated news and conspiracy theories. The thorny problems and layered complexities of persistent misquotations and misinformation as well as media bias and political bias coupled with media manipulation, Internet manipulation, misrepresentation and sensationalism have ushered in a vicious cycle that continues to fan social polarization and public distrust of the media in the digital age, as elucidated by the following excerpt from Wikipedia regarding the exploitations and ramifications of sensationalism detrimentally affecting the information and media ecology:
The digital revolution has completely changed the way [in which] people both produce and consume news content. From a production standpoint, news outlets are now at a much higher risk of releasing content that is false because of how quickly news is circulated through the internet in order to capitalize on those views and clicks for profit. From a consumption standpoint, this means fewer people reading physical copies of newspapers and this is reflective in the way headlines are created for print media. The introduction of the term “clickbait” into the forefront of the global lexicon has had implications in many major world events, specifically the election of Donald J. Trump to the presidency of the United States, which reflects the growing weakness in “controlling the limits of what it is acceptable to say”. Another reason for the concern over internet sensationalism is the way certain algorithms can create “news loops” that show people the exact same thing over and over again, known as “Echo chamber“. Many characters on the internet have been able to profit off of these tactics by instilling fear through completely ridiculous and unverified sources which are able to self permeate online through these algorithms. While these algorithms are meant to prioritize more trustworthy sources, this doesn’t always happen since they rely on keywords and phrases. As politics have become more polarized, these tactics have become increasingly prominent as news outlets realize how easy it is to push their own agendas on the internet in this fashion. It becomes easier to break the “Overton window” [also called the window of discourse, which frames the range of policies that a politician can recommend to the mainstream population without appearing too extreme to gain or keep public office, given the climate of public opinion at that time], and the gatekeepers, journalists at major media organizations, are losing power. Many countries have implemented response efforts to this issue, as distrust in the media has become a global concern alongside the rapidly changing format of news media.
The obstreperous clamours of the latest gossips, social fads, trendy factoids, propaganda machines and partisan conflicts have been intensified by tabloid journalism, lying press, fake news websites and social media accounts as well as biased broadcasting stations parading inaccurate news and revelling in the misrepresentation of individuals and situations, as they compete for people’s attention with bombardment techniques, sensational headlines, ridiculous storylines and explosive revelations involving misquotations, disinformation, ad hominem attacks and even outright fabrications or malicious hoaxes. Such news tends to spread much more than regular news due to the confluence of confirmation biases, sensationalism, bandwagon effect, grievance politics, media hypes, social media algorithms, and the lack of readers able or willing to fact-check, to exercise their reasoning, to read full articles rather than just headings before opining, recommending or sharing, and to prompt themselves and their friends to deliberate on (the accuracy of) what they read and share. All of these precautions, remedies and countermeasures are even more necessary when people’s thoughts and judgements have been at greater risks of being clouded or compromised by countless shared news and media contents harbouring one or more forms of appeal to emotion, which is a logical fallacy or literary device characterized by the manipulation of the recipient’s emotions in order to manoeuvre certain situation(s) or to win some argument(s), especially in the absence of factual evidence or logical reasoning. Accordingly, the manipulative, emotive nature of appeal to emotion in achieving a seemingly plausible though ultimately irrelevant tactic to persuade with emotion(al diversion) is a type of red herring waiting to exploit people’s emotional vulnerability and to prey on their lack of reasoned judgement, especially when people fail to scale their views, beliefs, claims or assertions to the evidence.
Lee Roetcisoender’s comment submitted upon SoundEagle🦅ೋღஜஇ’s invitation affirms that the predictability of psyche at the core of human nature is a determinative factor of what makes human beings psychologically vulnerable to (emotional) manipulation, and that the pursuit of familiar things, people and social networks on which human beings have come to depend for support, solidarity or survival is a lifelong engagement moulded by confirmation bias, which can exert a significant influence on our affect, judgement and choice through specific emotions as elicited or determined by the attractiveness or averseness of objects, persons, events or situations that we encounter or confront, and which can only be overcome by being mindful of the primordial nature of our (pre)dispositions, feelings and sensations; by refraining from substituting our rhetoric for reason and evidence; and by using dialectic as a formal system of reasoning and argumentation:
… If one understands the core of human nature it is not that difficult to understand what makes the human being tick therefore, human beings can be easily manipulated by those who understand the psyche, and that psyche is highly predictable.
Confirmation bias is established at a very young age. Confirmation bias is the reason why we choose the friends we hang around with at school. We are not necessarily influenced by other children so much as we associate with the commonalities we find in others who then make up our social network. It then becomes a vicious cycle of confirmation bias, a cycle established at a very young age. It then becomes the path of least resistance.
The compelling question then becomes: how does one move past the mind trap of confirmation bias? The resolution to that dilemma requires a certain level of intelligence however, unfortunate as it may be, homo sapiens have not evolved to the state where the structure of intelligence supersedes or overrides the primordial influence of valences; valences being the non-conceptual representations of value. The qualia of sensations and feelings trump the structure of pure intelligence. One would think that the pure structure of intelligence would be the final arbiter but it isn’t. This is best illustrated by the power of rhetoric in contrast to dialectic. If used correctly, dialectic will lead one to sound conclusions based exclusively upon the supporting evidence of data however, in contrast to logic, rhetoric appeals directly to the primordial influence of feelings and sensations.
Change will occur, but that change will be incremental and will only occur at the individual level within individuals who have been gifted with the ability to discern between the power and influence of qualia (feelings) which is in contrast to the structure (intelligence). It’s nobody’s fault because homo sapiens may be really clever animals but we are animals nevertheless, and really dumb animals too. We are not all created equal…..
Although it can be hard for logic and reason to prevail over emotion, there are good incentives and valid justifications for deploying the power of the mind to think, understand and form judgements critically, not just for moderating or modulating our emotional response but also for innoculating ourselves against the assault of untruth, misinformation, disinformation and prevarication, lest we should become victims or even (willing or unwitting) participants in manipulation, indoctrination, chicanery, duplicity, sophistry, hoax or fraud. For instance, it has been shown by the research findings and studies conducted by David G Rand who is “an Associate Professor at MIT Sloan School of Management, the Director of the Human Cooperation Laboratory and the Applied Cooperation Team at MIT, and an affiliated faculty member of the MIT Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences and MIT Institute of Data, Systems, and Society” that the lack of reasoning resulting from mental slackness or lazy thinking characterized by having a low cognitive reflection test score has a greater impact than wilful ignorance, bias, partisanship, motivated reasoning, and even the accuracy or veracity of information, on people’s ability to winnow truth from falsehood, as well as their willingness and likelihood to share misinformation or disseminate false or deceptive news, regardless of their sociodemographic background, intelligence and political allegiance. Rand concludes that people need not be held captive by their (political) biases if they bother to exercise their reasoning; read full articles rather than just headings before opining, recommending or sharing; induce themselves and their friends to deliberate on (the accuracy of) what they read and share; whilst also guarding themselves against being distracted by the trappings and frivolities on social media that predispose them to not thinking critically, which causes them to be more prone to deception and manipulation online.
Furthermore, emotive arguments and loaded language are often particularly effective and persuasive in eliciting raw and quick reaction by exploiting the potential for emotional complication caused by the human predisposition for acting impulsively, spontaneously or passionately. However, such an emotive reaction based upon an emotional response without the rein of further considered judgement can ultimately be highly unconducive and even detrimental to situation, argument, discourse, writing or speech where fairness, impartiality and sagacity are required.
Emotions fuelling biases and flaring opinions can be seen as a major, volatile contributor to innumerable social flashpoints, cultural minefields and ideological infernos, where truths become victims and martyrs. One of the most influential, intense, high-stakes, polemical and unscrupulous forms of emotional manipulation can be amply observed in post-truth politics, which has been so potent and obtrusive a sociopolitical phenomenon that “post-truth” was designated by English Oxford Living Dictionaries as the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2016, and was defined as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief”. Ironically, the Global Language Monitor (GLM), “a media analytics company that documents, analyzes and tracks cultural trends in language the world over, with a particular emphasis upon Global English”, ranked “Truth” as its Top Word of 2017 and placed “Post-Truth” in fourth place after “Narrative” and “Opioids”. Also known as post-factual politics and post-reality politics, post-truth politics is defined in Wikipedia as “a political culture in which debate is framed largely by appeals to emotion disconnected from the details of policy, and by the repeated assertion of talking points to which factual rebuttals are ignored. Post-truth differs from traditional contesting and falsifying of facts by relegating facts and expert opinions to be of secondary importance relative to appeal to emotion.” As a result of privileging emotional appeal to achieve sociopolitical aims at the expense of factual validity and moral integrity, even the most sanctimonious quotations or statements catapulted from the arena of conspiracy theories, pseudoscience, anti-intellectualism, anti-expertise sentiment, populism, post-truth politics, demagoguery, ochlocracy, oligarchy, plutocracy, kleptocracy, kakistocracy, narcissistic leadership or the like need to be critically examined or at least taken with a grain of salt, whilst staying not only well equipped with cool-headedness, balance of mind and emotional equilibrium but also well inoculated with moral fortitude and ethical stalwartness.
Gratuitously familiar, at times rather off-putting, but undeniably effectual, alarmingly ubiquitous, almost ineluctable, and often highly addictive or ambivalently seductive, is a vigorous form of appeal to emotion saturating much of contemporary life and manifesting conspicuously in the public sphere. It is formally identified as sensationalism, which may appear to be conveying compelling news through a selection of sensational or even scandalous quotations and statements, but is ultimately partial, deceptive and misleading, if not trivial and superficial, in both substance and deliverance, particularly when journalistic objectivity (encompassing professionalism, fairness, disinterestedness, factuality and non-partisanship) clashes with profit motive or corporate agenda. Characteristically exploiting the shock value and thrill factor of the content, sensationalism is described in Wikipedia as “a type of editorial bias in mass media in which events and topics in news stories and pieces are overhyped to present biased impressions on events, which may cause a manipulation to the truth of a story.… Some tactics include being deliberately obtuse, appealing to emotions, being controversial, intentionally omitting facts and [fabricating] information, being loud and self-centered, and acting to obtain attention” in pursuit of the scoop to the point of bending facts, distorting truths, ignoring science and even becoming vexatious or insulting by goading and taunting interviewees to provoke strong reactions or visceral responses to generate compelling viewing and dramatic soundbites.
On the one hand, sensationalism has been fairly and accurately attributed by experts in journalism and mass communication to having the most widespread impact and persistent influence in mass media, as advertisers, promoters and media outlets customarily exploit the ubiquity, readership and viewership of newspapers, magazines, social media and the Internet, television and radio to vie for public attention or brand recognition and to increase commercial exposure or financial gain by means of injecting ever more emotional content and entertainment value into news, opinions and advertisements, even to the point of steering questionably far from neutrality, objectivity, veracity, probity, decency or integrity, let alone transparency and accountability. On the other hand, sensationalism has been rightly or wrongly attributed by some people (particularly those with grievance or tarnished reputation) as a mechanism or avenue via which journalists, columnists, editors and media reporters (seek to) sensationalize their scoops; scandalize their patrons; defame or retaliate against certain entities; favour or oppose some individuals, public figures, politicians, parties or causes; tamper with informers, victims or witnesses; influence the judge or jury; affect criminal or civil proceedings; and reap personal or monetary rewards. By and large, the appeal of Hype and Bias to purveyors, promoters and profiteers has indeed been manifold and long-established, all the more so since the advent of mass production and distribution both online and offline, as elucidated by the following excerpt from Wikipedia regarding the exploitations and ramifications of sensationalism in mass media:
In the late 1800s, falling costs in paper production and rising revenues in advertising in the U.S. led to a drastic rise in newspaper’s circulation, which attracted the growing audiences that advertisers desired. One presumed goal of sensational reporting is to increase or sustain viewership or readership, from which media outlets can price their advertising higher to increase their profits based on higher numbers of viewers and/or readers. Sometimes this can lead to a lesser focus on objective journalism in favor of a profit motive, in which editorial choices are based upon sensational stories and presentations to increase advertising revenue. Additionally, advertisers tend to have a preference for their products or services to be reported positively in mass media, which can contribute to bias in news reporting in favor of media outlets protecting their profits and revenues, rather than reporting objectively about stated products and services.
However, newspapers have a duty to report and investigate stories related to political corruption. Such investigative journalism is right and proper when it is backed up with documents, interviews with responsible witnesses, and other primary sources. Journalists and editors are often accused of sensationalizing scandals by those whose public image is harmed by the legitimate reporting of the scandal. News organizations are not obliged to (and are often ethically obliged not to) avoid stories that might make local, state and national public figures uncomfortable. Occasionally, news organizations mistakenly relay false information from unreliable anonymous sources, who use mass media as a tool for retaliation, defamation, victim and witness tampering, and monetary or personal gain. Therefore, any story based on sources who may be reasonably assumed to be motivated to act in this way is best interpreted with critical thinking.
In extreme cases, mass media may report only information that makes a “good story” without regard for factual accuracy or social relevance. It has been argued that the distrust in government that arose in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal created a new business tactic for the media and resulted in the spread of negative, dishonest and misleading news coverage of American politics; such examples include the labeling of a large number of political scandals, regardless of their importance, with the suffix “-gate”. Such stories are often perceived (rightly or wrongly) as politically partisan or biased towards or against a group or individual because of the sensational nature in which they are reported. A media piece may report on a political figure in a biased way or present one side of an issue while deriding another. It may include sensational aspects such as zealots, doomsayers and/or junk science. Complex subjects and affairs are often subject to sensationalism. Exciting and emotionally charged aspects can be drawn out without providing the elements needed (such as pertinent background, investigative, or contextual information) for the audience to form its own opinions on the subject.
The quality and authenticity of information can be simultaneously martyred by Hype, Bias and Affect. In an environment where optimism is unjustifiably dismissed as or conflated with naivety, in a media climate where naysaying, doomsaying, trending and politicking can attract considerably more readership, viewership or ratings than abiding by content neutrality and upholding journalistic professionalism, and in a social milieu where gimmick, novelty, spectacle, showmanship, exaggeration, misrepresentation, conflict, grievance, alarmism, sensationalism and conspiracy theories provide both the addictive ingredients and competitive incentives for framing and peddling anything ranging from the manifestly tawdry or gossipy, biased or partisan, and misguided or bigoted, to the decidedly pseudoscientific or conspiratorial, paranormal or nonsensical, unconscionable or disreputable, and corrupt or fraudulent, those articles, reports and news (offered across various journalistic media) that are factually correct, genuinely balanced and well-researched are often sidelined or outcompeted not only because they are expensive and time-consuming to complete and therefore difficult to produce quickly and plentifully, but also because they tend to be much more nuanced and sophisticated, thus lacking an immediate emotional appeal or a strong emotional valence that can readily supercharge the audience, and that can be opportunely exploited by those who seek to manipulate, inflame or take advantage of some issues, threads or situations by weaving stories, narratives or even deceptions around an emotional core to rally support, amass credibility, acquire legitimacy, or render the putative claims or causes more believable or engageable, even when they have been debunked by factual analysis, toppled by intellectual scrutiny or exposed by comprehensive investigation.
Being captives of our emotions notwithstanding, the susceptibility and manipulability of our emotions cannot be denied or underestimated with respect to certain activities, outcomes and objectives of blogging, publishing, advertising, canvassing and interviewing as well as various forms of politics, broadcast and communications on mass media, social media and face-to-face interactions. Pitched to readers and viewers on a highly contrived and gratuitous level, some of the news and information of our contemporary world are significantly dramatized to grab our emotion or seize our attention, as if their validity and veracity have been engineered to be validated by their emotional content and shock value, or by their potential to tease and their potency to titillate. In the article entitled “Is the world really better than ever?” published under the news series called “The long read: In-depth reporting, essays and profiles” by The Guardian, Oliver Burkeman describes the emotional entanglements to which people are being routinely exposed by the ubiquitous foregrounding of opinions at the expense of factual discussion, reasoned argument, rigorous analysis and unbiased reporting:
… we live now in the Age of the Take, in which a seemingly infinite supply of blog posts, opinion columns, books and TV talking heads compete to tell us how to feel about the news. Most of this opinionising focuses less on stacking up hard facts in favour of an argument than it does on declaring what attitude you ought to adopt: the typical take invites you to conclude, say, that Donald Trump is a fascist, or that he isn’t, or that BBC presenters are overpaid, or that your yoga practice is an instance of cultural appropriation. (This shouldn’t really come as a surprise: the internet economy is fuelled by attention, and it’s far easier to seize someone’s attention with emotionally charged argument than mere information – plus you don’t have to pay for the expensive reporting required to ferret out the facts.)
Pushed to extremes, such news stories degenerate into junk food news (also called junk news or junk journalism) amounting to “sensationalized, personalized, and homogenized inconsequential trivia” that is “cheap to produce and profitable for media proprietors”, according to Carl Jensen in “Junk Food News 1877-2000”, chapter five of Censored 2001: 25 years of censored news and the top censored stories of the year.
Concomitant with and saturating fast-paced lifestyles with around-the-clock investigation and reporting of news, the 24/7 news cycle has not only engendered a colossal quantity of news resources since the advent of cable television channels in the 1980s but also increased competition for the attention of audiences and advertisers, thus prompting media providers to deliver the latest news in the most compelling manner to remain ahead of competitors on television, radio, printed materials, podcasts, web videos, social media, blogs, news websites and mobile app news media. Warp Speed is neither just the breakneck velocity of the famed interstellar crew embarking on “the voyages of the starship Enterprise … to explore strange new worlds … [and t]o boldly go where no one has gone before”, nor just the eponym of the life-saving operation resulting from the public–private partnership initiated by the United States government to facilitate and accelerate the development, manufacturing and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics. It is also the title of a book (published in 1999) critiquing the increasingly chequered history of journalism as a result of being drawn into the fray of competitive culture and corporate pressure creating unsustainable challenges and unprofessional compromises, as revealed by the following critical assessment of the 24-hour news cycle permeating contemporary society:
According to former journalists Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel, 24-hour news creates wild competition among media organizations for audience share. This, coupled with the profit demand of their corporate ownership, has led to a decline in journalistic standards. In their book Warp Speed: America in the Age of Mixed Media, they write that “the press has moved toward[s] sensationalism, entertainment, and opinion” and away from traditional values of verification, proportion, relevance, depth, and quality of interpretation. They fear [that] these values will be replaced by a “journalism of assertion” which de-emphasizes whether a claim is valid and encourages putting a claim into the arena of public discussion as quickly as possible.
The synopsis of the aforementioned book provides a synoptic outline of the sorry business of rapid and manic news delivery on account of the press capitulating to chasing, satisfying and retaining its audience by presenting news content and staging current affairs more or less as entertainments or spectacles to increase their emotional impact and to dramatize them with hype, contretemps, cause célèbre, heated exchange or sensationalism in some tawdry, provocative or formulaic approach so as to stay financially attractive to stakeholders and to remain commercially competitive in a much more conceited, opinionated, assertive, dogmatic, argumentative, incendiary, confrontational and polemical social milieu and media climate, at the expense of achieving judicious authentication, balanced representation and dispassionate reporting of news, much to the detriment of maintaining the professional objective or ethical principle of fostering and preserving factuality, integrity and impartiality in journalism, thus diminishing the beneficial functions of the press in an autonomous society or democratic country:
… In this insightful and thoughtful book, Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel, two of America’s leading press watchers, explore the new culture of news–what they call the new Mixed Media Culture–and show how it works. Warp Speed describes a world of news in which the speed of delivery is reducing the time for verification, sources are gaining more leverage over the news, and argument is overwhelming reporting. The press, forced to adhere to the demands of the bottom line and keep its audience, is straining more and more to find the Big Story to package as a form of entertainment, turning news stories into TV dramas; and turning history into a kind of Truman Show. As a result, the role of the press in a self-governing society is undermined.…
Under the influence of the 24/7 news cycle, exaggerated, extravagant or intensive publicity or promotion of newsworthy matters and topical issues is not beyond the pale of scientific circles, especially when incorrect, defective, unethical or fraudulent citation practices coupled with sensationalized press releases lead to incidents of misquotation, misinformation or misrepresentation, even raising false hopes or unwarranted fears and eliciting misguided decisions or unsound investments. Such incidents are becoming much more tempting and prevalent since scientific kudos and academic publishing have become embodied by what can be unenviably described as the citation race, relentlessly fuelled by the publish-or-perish mentality and increasingly benchmarked by scientometric indicators of scholarly output, publishing performance and citation impact, all of which can significantly affect decisions regarding manuscript submissions, academic careers, research funding and journal standings. Accordingly, press releases from scientific journals, research institutions and funding agencies can be very prone to suffering from hyped and substandard reporting. Notice that in discussing the risks, problems and factors pertaining to how the press handles and quantifies health stories via “distorted journalistic reports” that “failed to adequately address costs, harms, benefits, the quality of evidence, and the existence of other treatment options”, the words of Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel — “the press has moved towards sensationalism, entertainment, and opinion” — have also been quoted by six PLoS Medicine Editors in their article entitled “False Hopes, Unwarranted Fears: The Trouble with Medical News Stories” as follows:
There is also a broader context in which medical stories get exaggerated—the 24-hour news cycle means that media organizations are battling for audience share, which in turn means that “the press has moved towards sensationalism, entertainment, and opinion”. Headlines are often written by news editors, rather than the article’s reporter, and are particularly prone to exaggeration. All of this sensationalism strays far from the reality of biomedical research, a slow process that yields small, incremental results based on long-term studies that always have weaknesses.
The origin of hype in health stories goes even deeper than journalists’ lack of training and the hurried pace of broadcasting. Ransohoff and Ransohoff have described medical researchers and reporters as “complicit collaborators,” both of whom may benefit from a sensationalized story. Researchers benefit from the publicity because it may increase citations to their study and help their chances of promotion or tenure, while a highly visible story of a dramatic medical breakthrough can boost a journalist’s career. Sensationalism occurs, they say, “when the participants stand to benefit from publicity without a corresponding penalty for misleading reports.”…
The Role of Medical Journals
When a health story gets hyped, it is all too easy for medical journal editors to deny any responsibility. The reality, of course, is that journal editors themselves are the third party in the “complicit collaboration”—the journal’s press release is the usual mechanism for linking the researcher to the journalist. Medical journals issue press releases about their upcoming studies partly because media publicity drives readers to the journal and builds brand recognition. A bland press release may be less likely to get your journal and the study noticed. Not surprisingly, a content analysis of journal press releases by Steven Woloshin and Lisa Schwartz found that these releases were themselves prone to exaggeration ; we suspect that press releases from research institutions and funding agencies may be equally as prone.…
In general, research quality can suffer from the publication race and the concerning rise in unscrupulous business practices of predatory or deceptive publishers. Contributing to the media landscape and information ecosystem pollution in scientific domains and academic fields is citation pollution, which is the phenomenon of the infiltration of retracted research or fake research into legitimate research as a result of the former being cited in the latter, whose validity is thus negatively impacted and compromised. It has been estimated that two thirds of scientific publications retracted are fraudulent.
As a recipient of many fellowships, awards and honours (including two Pulitzer prizes), and as an American entomologist, biologist, naturalist and writer who has specialized for many decades in ecology, evolution and sociobiology, who has been known as the father of “sociobiology” and “biodiversity”, and who coined the term “biophilia”, Edward Osborne Wilson summed up during a public discussion between himself and James Dewey Watson (an American molecular biologist, geneticist and zoologist) moderated by NPR correspondent Robert Krulwich on 9 September 2009 in a sold-out event at Sanders Theatre of the Harvard Museum of Natural History in Cambridge, Massachusetts with the following sobering words to serve as a stark warning for humanity still entrenched in and enslaved by the primitive nature and shackling influence of emotions, the vulnerability of which has been rendered even more acute by the ascents of institutional power and technological prowess that are contributing to worsening existential crisis, unless successfully (re)mediated by philosophical reflections of and rational inquiries into the origin, identity and destination of humankind:
Will we solve the crises of next hundred years? asked Krulwich. “Yes, if we are honest and smart,” said Wilson. “The real problem of humanity is the following: we have paleolithic emotions; medieval institutions; and god-like technology. And it is terrifically dangerous, and it is now approaching a point of crisis overall.” Until we understand ourselves, concluded the Pulitzer-prize winning author of On Human Nature, “until we answer those huge questions of philosophy that the philosophers abandoned a couple of generations ago—Where do we come from? Who are we? Where are we going?—rationally,” we’re on very thin ground.
When carefully understood and appreciated, the messages conveyed in Wilson’s concluding statements can indeed be simultaneously pessimistic, prophetic, profound and poignant. There are serious reasons and implications for their being construed by the most thoughtful and perceptive amongst our fellow human beings as such, at least to the extent that emotion, the most intimate aspect about human existence, has been brought to deep reckoning by the unflattering realization or blunt revelation that although emotions and heuristics have facilitated adaptive responses to environmental challenges and provided advantageous solutions to ancient and recurring problems facing our ancestors living in prehistory, they can readily become overwhelmed by and ill-suited to the hectic pace, facile trend, incessant change, fast consumption, vast complexity and heightened interconnectedness of modern life coupled with its global nature and ecological impact, insofar as the scale and speed of anthropological and ecological transformation driven by the interaction between evolutionary factors of the social, cultural, economic and technological domains have no historical precedents, substantially affecting people’s material (work, income, house), psychological (personal relationships) and sociocultural (continuous updating of knowledge and professional skills) lives.
Two contrasting dilemmas continue to exist and defy foreseeable solutions. On the one hand, “answer[ing] those huge questions of philosophy that the philosophers abandoned a couple of generations ago—Where do we come from? Who are we? Where are we going?—rationally” will remain exceedingly difficult and persistently problematic when emotion continues to be as intrinsically difficult and fuzzy a subject to fathom as consciousness itself. Despite wide-ranging contributions from physiology, psychology, evolutionary science, (affective) neuroscience, endocrinology, medicine, history, sociology and computer science, there is still no scientific consensus on a concept or definition of emotion that is universal or all-inclusive, let alone what emotional states have in common and how they can be distinguished from nonemotional states. On the other hand, emotional experience has always been the wellspring of ideas and creative genres in songs, music, art, literature and drama (including play, opera, comedy, mime, ballet and narrative (semi)fiction performed in a theatre or on radio, film and television), especially those possessing enduring qualities that are enriching, uplifting, inspiring, informative or beneficial to humankind whilst communicating and reverberating to us important matters such as sentiments, values and ethics. Yet, regardless of how great and prodigious such human achievements have been, that “we have paleolithic emotions; medieval institutions; and god-like technology” is a succinct, sombre and down-to-earth reminder that genetic evolution endowing humans with their emotional faculty — the fundamental vehicle and defining source of their expressive humanity and social intelligence — has hardly kept pace with the speeds and magnitudes of cultural evolution and technological (r)evolution, whose unprecedented scope and power for transforming the material, ideological, sociocultural, political, economic and environmental conditions of human existence are significantly impinging on the very survival of Homo sapiens as well as numerous nonhuman species and habitats around the world, even more so when emotions — the root of feelings, desires and empathy as well as the valenced reactions routinely intertwined with mood, temperament, personality, disposition, creativity and motivation — cannot be consistently counted on to recognize and rein in the excesses and repercussions of Misquotation Pandemic and Disinformation Polemic causing Mind Pollution by Viral Falsity, and in turn stressing or degrading the integrity, resilience and social responsibility of individuals, institutions and technology.
Indubitably, human emotion and temperament in affectively synthesizing the flavour and substance of experiential reality have very significant roles and influences in everyday life with respect to how they readily and regularly engender in people (or render them more susceptible to) various biases, fallacies and blindspots, all of which can be much stronger and far more problematic than those engendered by people’s more objective beliefs and considered premises, especially when Hype, Bias and Affect that Appeal to Emotion and Lazy Thinking are not proportionately modulated by demonstrable evidence, judiciously tested with empirical data, or sufficiently tempered with universal reason. In this regard, human emotion and temperament may no longer be deemed to be valid, admissible or justifiable as a trustworthy source or wellspring from which the core standards or ultimate yardsticks of humanity, let alone the definitive reflections of truth, can be dependably derived. Whilst the diversity of human consciousness requires the ongoing recognition that different experiences and behavioural features exhibited or elicited in the realm of human emotion and temperament all have their meanings and places in life, the validity and reliability of human emotion, even in the light of scientific exploration of human psychology as a way of understanding how individuals and cultures systematically construct and interpret experiences, have been called into serious question on the basis of the perennial inclination or parti pris that manifestly drives people to steadfastly resist even the fiercest onslaught of undeniable facts, sobering veracities, confronting realities, climacteric shifts or paradigmatic changeovers against their misguided beliefs, deplorable (in)actions or execrable (mal)practices, so long as humans are destined to be intractably shackled by their internal “paleolithic emotions”, even if humans can come to their own defence and be fortunate or inventive enough to be morally absolved, materialistically enriched, existentially emancipated, circuitously redeemed or gratuitously aggrandized by their external “medieval institutions; and god-like technology”.
A misquotation refers to an act, instance or occasion of quoting a person or a source incorrectly or inaccurately; or of attributing a quotation to the wrong author or incorrect source. misquotations can easily lead to quoting out of context (also called contextomy or quote mining) as a result of being misleading in the following ways, as outlined by Gary N Curtis in The Fallacy Files regarding familiar contextomies:
A contextomy is a quote that has been taken out of context in such a way as to create a misleading impression of its meaning. A “familiar contextomy” is a contextomy that finds its way repeatedly into print or conversation, usually to support a particular point.…
- Bogus Quotes: Quotes that have been fabricated and falsely attributed.
- Misattributions: Quotes attributed to the wrong person.
- Misquotes: Garbled quotes that are similar to what the quoted person actually said.
- Mistranslations: Quotes garbled in translation.
As can be deduced from the previous explanations, both misquotation and quoting out of context can be committed deliberately (intentionally) or accidentally (unintentionally), and can result in the compromise, alteration, distortion, falsification or misrepresentation of the meaning and purpose as well as the origin, authenticity, legitimacy, validity, credibility or reliability of a quotation. Contextomy refers to the selective excerpting of words, phrases or sentences from their original linguistic context in a way that alters or distorts the source’s intended meaning — a practice commonly known as “quoting out of context”. Here, the (problem of) misquotation caused by quoting out of context arises not from the removal of a quote from its original context per se (as all quotes are subjected to being separated from their sources anyway), but from the quoter’s decision to exclude from the excerpt certain nearby phrases or sentences that together constitute the original “context” that serves to clarify the meanings and intentions behind the quoter’s selected words, phrases or sentences. Overall, quoting out of context (sometimes referred to as