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💬 Misquotation Pandemic and Disinformation Polemic: 🧠 Mind Pollution by Viral Falsity 🦠


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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, and 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. Consequently, 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.

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 dogma, ignorance, hatred, bigotry, falsity, blind faith, 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.

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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), 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), 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.

The Cognitive Bias Codex - 180+ biases, designed by John Manoogian III

Cognitive biases can be organized into four categories: biases that arise from too much information, not enough meaning, the need to act quickly, and the limits of memory. For more information, consult the cognitive bias cheat sheet and the list of cognitive biases.

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.

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, misinformers, 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.

Political Spin and Media Manipulation with Pseudoscience, Sensationalism, Alternative Facts and Conspiracy Theories

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, 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 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 instrumentalisation 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.

Media Landscape and Information Ecosystem Pollution

Media Landscape and Information Ecosystem Pollution

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 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, 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.

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 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.

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.)

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 contextomy or quote mining) is an informal fallacy in which a passage is removed from its surrounding matter in such a way as to alter or distort its intended meaning, thus producing misquotation, misinformation and misrepresentation. On the one hand, quoting out of context or contextomy can be intentionally created to strengthen a case, support an argument, bolster a viewpoint, fortify a stance, persuade specific individuals or mislead certain people, often largely based on or driven by some dubious or questionable position, premise, purpose, motive, agenda or goal. On the other hand, quoting out of context or contextomy can be accidentally produced by someone who misunderstands or misinterprets the quotee’s meaning, or who omits something essential on account of assuming it to be inessential. Regardless of the intent or the lack thereof — as a fallacy — quoting out of context differs from false attribution insofar as the resulting out-of-context quote is still attributed to the correct source. Therefore, verification of the validity, veracity and reliability of a quote by checking (with) its source(s) is both prudent and necessary to identify or deal with misquotation arising from quoting out of context.

An example of misquotation and quoting out of context can be demonstrated as follows:

Original Statement: This has been the best movie that George has watched this year! Of course, it is the only movie watched by George this year.

Quotation or Restatement: George considers the movie to be “the best that he has watched all year”, as long as plot or character development has not been on his radar.

Not only has the Quotation or Restatement failed to capture the context, irony or joke that George has watched only one movie this year, it has also been unfaithful in reproducing the Original Statement, not least in conflating “this year” with “all year”, and inferring or assuming that plot or character development has not been a criterion for his consideration of the quality of the movie.

Having a rather discernible leaning towards journalism, an online resource known as ✔️ocabulary.com provides a straightforward definition and some good examples of what constitutes quoting a person or a piece of spoken or written text inaccurately. Note that the word “misquote” can be both a verb and a noun:

misquote

To misquote someone is to incorrectly repeat the words they’ve said. It’s unethical for a journalist to deliberately misquote the subject of an interview.

It’s extremely common for people to misquote famous figures like Gandhi (who never literally said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world”) and Machiavelli (who didn’t exactly say, “The ends justify the means”). These examples can also be called misquotes. As with many words, Shakespeare is credited with being the first to use this combination of mis-, “wrong,” and quote, “repeat or copy out exact words.”

Usage Examples
  • The CDC was muzzled, the WHO was belittled, the scientific experts were either shouted down, spoken over or misquoted.

    Salon Sep 11, 2020

  • Mr. Adams, 63, proceeded to spend around eight minutes listing supposed examples, beginning by misquoting something Mr. Biden said during last week’s Democratic National Convention.

    Washington Times Aug 26, 2020

  • Sporting more of a performative style than a coherent ideology, he is, to misquote Lenin, a “useful idiot.”

    Salon Jun 27, 2020

  • After President Donald Trump claimed that Redfield was misquoted, the director walked his statement back, saying [that] he did not mean [that] the current crisis would be worse, just “more difficult and potentially complicated.”

    Scientific American Jun 4, 2020

Misinformation is essentially false or inaccurate information that has been spread or communicated irrespective of whether there is an intent(ion) to deceive, confuse, confound or muddy the waters for some reason(s) or purpose(s), typically involving frauds, intrigues, collusions, specious claims, disingenuous proclamations, fallacious arguments or false narratives ranging from out-of-context or otherwise misleading images, altered photos or videos, and audiovisual contents digitally manipulated or artificially generated, to false rumours or insults and pranks, manufactured evidence, questionable assertions, fabricated statements, doctored documents, deceptive interpretations, biased accounts, falsified data, faulty statistics and even cybersecurity threats. The main negative outcome or effect of misinformation is one of elicited wishful thinking, illusion, misbelief, fear, suspicion, paranoia, anxiety, anger, hatred, resentment, vindictiveness or spite in a person, group or population. News parodies, satires, lies, illusions, fictions or conspiracy theories can become misinformation if the unwary deem them to be credible and relay them as though they were true. The difference between misinformation and disinformation is that the former is shared accidentally whereas the latter is created or distributed deliberately in a calculated way with the intent(ion) of misleading or deceiving certain people or target audience for iniquitous or nefarious purposes. In short, disinformation is intentionally false or misleading information that is spread in a premeditated way to dupe target recipients. It includes the deliberate use of malicious content such as hoaxes, spearphishing and political propaganda. The terms “misinformation” and “disinformation” have often been associated with the neologism “fake news”, defined by some scholars as “fabricated information that mimics news media content in form but not in organizational process or intent”.

Conducted at the Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford, and “us[ing] perspectives from organizational sociology, human computer interaction, communication, information science, and political science to interpret and analyze the evidence”, the Computational Propaganda Research Project (COMPROP) “investigates the interaction of algorithms, automation and politics” and “includes analysis of how tools like social media bots are used to manipulate public opinion by amplifying or repressing political content, disinformation, hate speech, and junk news”. Defining computational propaganda as “the use of algorithms, automation, and big data to shape public life”, Samantha Bradshaw and Philip N Howard conclude in the executive summary of their article entitled “The Global Disinformation Order: 2019 Global Inventory of Organised Social Media Manipulation” as follows:

Over the past three years, we have monitored the global organization of social media manipulation by governments and political parties. Our 2019 report analyses the trends of computational propaganda and the evolving tools, capacities, strategies, and resources.

  1. Evidence of organized social media manipulation campaigns which have taken place in 70 countries, up from 48 countries in 2018 and 28 countries in 2017. In each country, there is at least one political party or government agency using social media to shape public attitudes domestically (Figure 1).
  2. Social media has become co-opted by many authoritarian regimes. In 26 countries, computational propaganda is being used as a tool of information control in three distinct ways: to suppress fundamental human rights, discredit political opponents, and drown out dissenting opinions (Figure 2).
  3. A handful of sophisticated state actors use computational propaganda for foreign influence operations. Facebook and Twitter attributed foreign influence operations to seven countries (China, India, Iran, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela) who have used these platforms to influence global audiences (Figure 3).
  4. China has become a major player in the global disinformation order. Until the 2019 protests in Hong Kong, most evidence of Chinese computational propaganda occurred on domestic platforms such as Weibo, WeChat, and QQ. But China’s new-found interest in aggressively using Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube should raise concerns for democracies
  5. Despite there being more social networking platforms than ever, Facebook remains the platform of choice for social media manipulation. In 56 countries, we found evidence of formally organized computational propaganda campaigns on Facebook. (Figure 4)

Misquotations and disinformation have increasingly functioned as the instruments, rhetoric, foot soldiers and trojan horses of unethical behaviours, reprehensible conducts, ignoble agendas, mendacious propagandas and unprincipled calculuses. On the whole, misquotations and disinformation have often been produced and disseminated by those who are motivated to court attention, sow doubt, shift blame, deflect criticism, commit fraud, cause controversy, inflict reputational damage, attain political advantage or acquire monetary gain. Misquotations and disinformation are also the instruments for establishing, maintaining or concealing corruption, illegitimacy and criminality. Promulgating insidious falsehoods and pandering to people’s baser instincts en masse, misquotations and disinformation in pandemic proportions become the banes and blights of human societies, afflicting individuals, corporations and even whole nations to the detriment of sustaining civil discourse, human rights, democratic governance, social cohesion, community psychology, critical thinking, critical consciousness and sociopolitical development. As prodigiously revealed in the notable Quotation and Information Checklist, there is indeed an astounding range of ways in which quotations and information can be misused or abused and thus rendered flawed, unreliable or invalid, becoming misquotations or constituting misinformation.

Even in the absence of malevolent, malicious or nefarious intent, misquotations and misinformation may easily abound as they can be spread by media users on the spur of the moment on multiple media, especially since advances in digital media and mass communications have democratized the sharing of information, though often without commensurate checks on the accuracy and veracity of such information. To account for the pervasive nature and global scale of such an information landscape, Dictionary.com has designated “misinformation” as the 2018 Word of the Year, defining it as “false information that is spread, regardless of whether there is intent to mislead”. Whether people are willing or unwitting participants in the transmission of problematic information, nowadays, media users are more or less given carte blanche on social platforms to commit misquotations and misinformation, the execution of which has become as expedient an act as copying, pasting, (re)posting, (re)hashing, (re)tweeting or (re)blogging, routinely done with impunity or even anonymity behind the cloaks of fake accounts or the smokescreens and sockpuppets of astroturfing operations and front organizations.

The persuasive power of reputation often wielded, exploited and even abused by some major influencers and celebrities in the age of adulation, the age of information and the age of reputation aside, the endorsements and promotions from media personalities and self-appointed experts, especially when associated with or accentuated by (mis)quotations, misinformation (false or inaccurate information), disinformation (propaganda or false information spread deliberately to mislead or deceive), confirmation bias, bandwagon effect, illusory truth effect, and truth by consensus, can all too readily usurp, ruin or interfere with good causes and true callings. Reputational endorsements and promotions frequently include or accompany the aims and claims of politicians, demagogues, marketers, advertisers, influencers, media personalities, publicity agents, niche bloggers, life(style) coaches as well as special interest groups, climate change deniers, pseudoscience peddlers, anti-vaccinators, bigots, hatemongers, obscurantists, misinformers, profiteers and so on, many of whom can very significantly increase their reach and influence as they form social networks, alliances, parties, societies, organizations, corporations and conglomerates, thereby creating more potent platforms and opportunities for affecting policies and outcomes, thus resulting in much greater social, economic and environmental ramifications, polarizations or degradations. Such people and agencies are not necessarily comprising well-known figures or unknown strangers, as they can happen to be our relatives, friends or associates, thus further complicating or compromising the quality and autonomy of our critical thinking and decision making.

In the face of all of these players and factors, we can no longer simply think or summarily insist that we can know many things with great certainty and without prejudices just by using media outlets, checking news feeds, watching press releases, reading blog posts, perusing journals, doing Google searches and studying whatever search results and web contents that arise from the keywords and phrases that we use. Accordingly, we are neither indefensibly remiss nor needlessly pessimistic in conceding the utter seriousness of the perennial and sobering issue that large proportions of the human populations worldwide are often ill-equipped to recognize and deal with misquotations, misinformation, disinformation, biases and fallacies, particularly if reputation, and by extension, affiliation, are relied upon as infallible arbiters of validity and reliability, particularly when technical knowledge or specific claims are beyond people’s means to handle, comprehend or control with care and propriety.

Facilitated by social media, the spread of misquotations and misinformation typically rides on people’s emotional drives, biased attitudes, cardinal urges, primal impulses and tribal instincts, and often hinges on people’s ignorance, credulity, volatility, grievance, perceived injustice, prejudice, fear, rumour and even paranoia. The spread can accelerate and become a viral phenomenon under the influences and confluences of sensationalism, peer pressure, homophily, confirmation bias, bandwagon effect, illusory truth effect, truth by consensus, false-consensus effect, overconfidence effect, selective perception and selective exposure.

Social platforms have not only usurped traditional news outlets and authoritative sources of information but also exerted significant control over what news and information reach people, insofar as their friends on social media have become the “arbiters” or “managing editors” deciding what others see, given that (social media algorithms usually dictate that) the more often an article is “liked”, commented on and shared by their friends, the more it appears on people’s news feeds, thus resulting in social amplification (also known as content amplification) to such an extent that social media have enormous potential to become problematic surrogates for, and present existential threats to, factual journalism, reliable publication and accurate information from reputable sources. There is no exaggeration in concluding that social media, in stifling journalism and perturbing democracy, have become not only sweeping gatekeepers of the information diets of billions of users worldwide, but also fertile platforms for conducting campaigns, propagandas, media manipulation, Internet manipulation and astroturfing operations, many of which routinely harbour misquotations, misinformation, disinformation, personal attacks (including ad hominem, damaging quotations, trolling and flaming), sensationalism, alternative facts, conspiracy theories and pseudoscience, all the more so when they are fanned by the ideological extremes, political polarizations and snowballing effects of people ranging from pundits, influencers, celebrities, ideologues, politicians and state actors to misinformants, disinformants, fanatics and conspiracy theorists using social platforms to magnify their causes, intensify their propaganda, or take fringe views into the mainstream, even conspiring with or resorting to the politics of grievance, paranoia, hypocrisy, mendacity, deception, collusion, misrepresentation, misdirection, obscurantism, obstructionism, misfeasance, impropriety, sedition, intimidation, discrimination, suppression and Machiavellianism as well as incendiary language, manufactured dissent and demagogic incitement.

As a columnist, writer, lecturer, broadcaster and presenter of radio and TV documentaries who has studied neurobiology, history and philosophy of science and specialized in “the history of ideas, the history and philosophy of science, the history and philosophy of religion, the philosophy of mind, theories of human nature, moral and political philosophy, and the history and sociology of race, immigration and identity”, Kenan Malik is all too aware of the precarious balancing act and fractious sociopolitical dynamics of (legislatively) satisfying the competing interests of jostling stakeholders involved in what he terms as “the anomalousness of social media as both public and private spaces” in which “FREE SPEECH, BIG TECH AND BROKEN POLITICS” fight for dominance and relevance regarding content moderation and censorship — a fight rendered all the more contentious and controversial in an overwrought hyperpartisan climate or even persecutory environment. There exist the balancing push-and-pull factors pertaining to the social aspects of people and society versus the technical aspects of organizational structure and processes of social media, insofar as behind the fight lie the deep fissure and persistent tension between the progressive and conservative factions of society in promulgating their respective narratives on the one hand, and the sociotechnical mediation that enables diverse voices and disparate ideologies to lay claim to freedom of speech on supposedly democratic forums such as the ones afforded by social media on the other hand. The fissure and tension stressing the relations(hips) between opposing factions in society can be dramatically intensified by the (re)production of misquotations, misinformation and disinformation, even more so under the shadow or influence of post-truth politics and demagogy. Within such a tension-filled atmosphere, social media, which play a special role as the bearer of the general right to freedom of expression for all and sundry, are caught between respecting the right to freedom of expression on the one hand, and subordinating freedom of speech and participatory affordances to the social and legal ramifications of induced conflict, harassment, sedition or even insurrection on the other. In particular, Malik’s conclusions highlight that the problems arising from (ab)using freedom of speech and expression as a pretext, veneer or cloak for spewing hate speech, bigotry, falsity, obscenity, defamation, incitement and sedition with wanton abundance to the point of endangering public security are ultimately political, institutional, social and cultural (as well as behavioural) in their origins, and therefore cannot be fundamentally rectified by squarely appealing or resorting to technological controls, legal sanctions and corporate breakups:

The banishment of Donald Trump from social media, and the expunging of Parler from cyberspace, has thrust to the forefront of discussion the question of how to regulate online space. It’s not a new debate – we’ve been going round in circles over this for the best part of 25 years and long before Facebook or Twitter popped up on our iPhones.

The problem is not just the anomalousness of social media as both public and private spaces. It’s also that we are faced with competing good things. Most people would probably agree with what social media should do: provide open forums for public discussion; minimise hate speech and threats; curtail the power of corporations to invade our privacy and to control the views we can access; restrict the ability of the state to censor political speech.

The trouble is that one good often comes at the expense of another. Expanding freedom of expression can leave more space for hate speech. Tighter regulation means giving more power to corporations and politicians to curtail dissent.…

There is a growing understanding that the power of the tech companies undermines democracy, that they act as censors and gatekeepers without facing any kind of democratic accountability. Hence the calls for tech monopolies to be broken up and for greater political scrutiny of their activities. Breaking up big tech may be necessary, but it is also likely to create a more fragmented online public sphere without particularly inhibiting hatred or threats. And while democratic accountability is crucial, it would not necessarily improve matters if states rather than corporations were to act as gatekeepers.

Poland moved last week to fine social media companies that removed legal content. “There can be no consent to censorship,” wrote the prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki. Last week, also, Poland put on trial, for “offending religious feelings”, gay activists who depicted the Virgin Mary with a rainbow halo. Social media companies should not ban lawful material (though it’s worth adding that it is the First Amendment that allows them to do so in America). But there is far more to challenging censorship than bringing tech giants into line.

Nor should we accord big tech magical powers. Why do we imagine, for instance, that it needed Twitter to rein in Trump? It is the politics and institutions of the United States that created the Trump phenomenon, from the enablers of the Republican party and corporate backers to the failure of the Democrats and the left to speak to many who feel abandoned and dispossessed. He is the product, too, of the decay of the public sphere and of a broader breakdown of civility. Too often, we seek technological and legal solutions to what are social and cultural problems – and then we are surprised when they don’t work. The answers to what we see as problems of technology may not be technological at all.

Adding fuel to the fire, many websites, search engines and social media can wrap their users in a filter bubble by deploying algorithms or artificial intelligence that guess or predict selectively what information or webpages those users would like to access based on their personal data, such as geolocations, past click-behaviours, search histories, webpages visited, contents viewed, online shopping habits and social media activities. Consequently, users are largely presented with information that conforms to their likes, desires, objectives, expectations and aspirations, becoming increasingly divorced from information that diverges from their proclivities and viewpoints, thus isolating them in their own cultural or ideological bubbles, and shrinking their personal ecosystem of information, if not further limiting their knowledge terrain and intellectual horizon. In its “Glossary of Newly Defined or Updated Terms Related To Misinformation”, Dictionary.com succinctly describes filter bubble as “a phenomenon that limits an individual’s exposure to a full spectrum of news and other information on the internet by algorithmically prioritizing content that matches a user’s demographic profile and online history or excluding content that does not”.

There is a related term in discussions of social and news media, namely, the echo chamber, which represents a metaphorical description of a situation in which opinions, ideas, beliefs or even conspiracy theories are amplified or reinforced when people repeatedly participate in communication and interaction inside a closed system that effectively insulates them from dissenting views, rebutting evidence, alternative angles and counterarguments. By visiting or embedding themselves in an echo chamber, people are able to search and obtain information that reinforces their existing views, but at the cost of potentially or unwittingly engendering an unconscious or unintended exercise in confirmation bias, which in turn may intensify sociopolitical polarization and extremism. The catchy term is a metaphor based on the acoustic echo chamber, where sounds are let to reverberate resoundingly in a hollow enclosure with high resonance and then captured by microphone, usually for recording purposes such that the producers of a television or radio program can create the aural illusion that a conversation is taking place in a large room or cave. Cultural tribalism is another emerging term for this form of echoing and homogenizing influence that has become undeniably prevalent on the Internet within social communities such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Reddit, Tumblr, LinkedIn, Messenger, WhatsApp, WeChat, Instagram, QQ, Qzone, Tik Tok, Sina Weibo, Baidu Tieba, Viber, Snapchat, Pinterest, Line, Telegram and so on. Some scholars notice the effects that echo chambers can potentially have on citizens’ stances, outlooks and viewpoints, more specifically what implications such effects will have on politics. However, there are studies and counterarguments with supporting evidence regarding ideological segregation online and offline indicating that the effects of echo chambers are significant but weaker than they have been assumed or suggested to be.

Being “interested in all things politics, economics, philosophy and current affairs”, and contending that “participation in politics is decreasing and social media’s disinformation is growing, facilitating political exploitation and polarisation”, Advait Kuravi demonstrated his considerable awareness about the impacts of echo chambers in his following comment submitted upon SoundEagle🦅ೋღஜஇ’s invitation:

American voters have become polarised since 2004, and the Overton Window, the range of palatable policies, has moved away from centrist values.

The first decade of the 21st century was hallmarked by the development of social media sites, including Facebook in 2004 and Twitter in 2006. According to a 2018 report by Ofcom, over 44% of adults now use only social media for news. However, due to echo chambers, these sites are fatally flawed in the way that they deliver information.

Echo chambers are readily formed on social media, where the user follows accounts of a similar political inclination. Platforms’ algorithms are instrumental in forming them, as they promote politically agreeable groups to maximise engagement. Due to confirmation bias, people use facts that validate their predispositions. These facts differ between echo chambers.

Users are constantly exposed to their predisposed viewpoint without challenge, which deeply entrenches it. This makes people more obdurate and intolerant. Furthermore, different users are exposed to different echo chambers, causing polarisation. Ahler and Sood discovered in their 2018 article ‘The Parties in Our Heads’, ‘the more political information you consume, the more you misperceive the other party’.

Therefore, on social media, one’s initial political values lead to acquisition of knowledge that validates those beliefs. Although polarisation is multifaceted, that social media effect further entrenches and polarises viewpoints.

The detailed infographic below shows the role of Internet giants and information, the prevalence of filter bubbles and echo chambers, plus the “ONE UNDERLYING HUMAN FLAW” fuelling “[t]he crisis of fact that permeates throughout social media”, namely, the confirmation bias, which, as depicted, can be avoided by practising mindfulness and emotional intelligence through self-control, self-awareness and empathy; engaging in informed and respectful debate through curiosity, scepticism and open-mindedness; and using good research skills such as taking online or local courses on news literacy and getting news as directly as possible from the source.

Confirmation Bias - how to get out of the Echo Chamber

Moreover, people have often been their own worst enemies to the extent that they carry their very own filter bubbles formed by their cognitive biases, and in particular, their confirmation biases driven by their worldviews and upbringings, plus their inability to deal consistently with crucial matters regarding compromise and subjectivity as well as contradiction, context, scope, validity and generalizability bounded by the laws of noncontradiction and excluded middle. Driven persistently by their unconscious exercise in confirmation biases, people tend to predictably remember or selectively gather information that reinforces their extant beliefs and existing views to the point of amplifying polarization and extremism in their social lives and political involvements. By and large, the fragmenting media exposure and the personalized algorithms used to construct filter bubbles — along with the ever-present exertions of homophily and people’s engrained cognitive biases and confirmation biases — have engendered the echoing and homogenizing effects observed within innumerable social communities plugged into the fast and furious cyberspace awash in the virality of images, videos and (mis)information, causing the dramatic rise of closed epistemic networks, echo chambers and cultural tribalism, in which members and insiders are not only insulated from the validity of counterevidence but also encouraged to actively exclude and discredit counterarguments, and thus further inflaming rivalries, conflicts and polarizations between individuals, groups and nations. In summary, social media coupled with echo chambers have led to the pronounced fracturing of sociopolitical discourse and media landscape, where people’s decisions and viewpoints can become overly influenced or unduly dictated by their information diets, which are all too often stultifyingly framed by filter bubbles to resonate (even more) with people’s internalized logics, beliefs and narratives, thus depriving people of the much needed avenues and benefits of being exposed to and informed by better alternatives and diverse perspectives. Perpectuating closed-loop communication and system of information, echo chambers tend to have deleterious effects or ruinous outcomes on the social capital required for divergent citizens and heterogeneous groups to work together on shared problems, common issues and contentious matters. Reinforcing or entrenching people’s existing views, ideas, attitudes, habits and beliefs aside, echo chambers are prone to fostering or amplifying confirmation bias, social polarization, radicalization and extremism, whose rigid, intolerant and antagonistic nature not only renders people and organizations much more impervious to change, empathy, compromise and cooperation, but also increases the likelihood and severity of situations that incur protracted anguish, stress, trauma, chaos, anomie, enmity, conflict, violence, defiance, escalation and discrimination.

SoundEagle witnessing a Tug of War with Contradictory Quotations or Statements

The intensification of sociocultural fracturing and the radicalization of sociopolitical issues across multiple groups and entities manifested in their respective social discourses, social identities and social realities as a result of intensive, large-scale digital mediations via algorithms and artificial intelligence deployed by websites, search engines and social media producing filter bubbles and echo chambers have not escaped the philosophical exploration, metaphysical scrutiny and existential appraisal by AJOwens in a post entitled “On Discourse” as follows:

The current fractured state of discourse, predicted by postmodernist theory as a result of intersecting but not completely congruent realms of meaning or language or significance, has become radically manifest in the political phenomena surrounding Facebook and other social media. We talk of “echo chambers” where isolated ideas are reinforced, and this is valid; but the deeper problem is the metaphysical or existential nature of the isolation itself — the increasing impossibility of communication between factions, owing to increasingly divergent sets of concepts, assumptions, and attendant or resulting world-views, the very vocabulary that defines a discourse. This development also underlies the internal fracturing of common interests known as “intersectionality.” We have developed personal vocabularies and personal worlds; and significantly, we are in a position to choose among them, based not on any common and testable “reality,” but on our own subjective position as a function of our interest in perpetuating our individual selves, and by extension, whatever conception of reality we feel most practically supports that interest.

Five months after the publication of the abovementioned post named “On Discourse”, AJOwens submitted the following comment upon SoundEagle🦅ೋღஜஇ’s invitation to peruse the eponymous post catchily titled 💬 Misquotation Pandemic and Disinformation Polemic: 🧠 Mind Pollution by Viral Falsity 🦠. His comment indicates that the ascendency of conspiracy theories that are seemingly plausible, internally consistent and rigorously fortified with alternative facts is the clarion sign of a psychic outcry or existential crisis, which has been the accumulative outcome of a stressful adaptation or exacerbated response to the contemporary flourish of subjectivity resulting from the postmodern fracturing or dismantling of the grand narratives and ideologies of modernism and various tenets of universalism, whose conspicuous waning, absence, ambiguity or irrelevance is compensated or counteracted by the conspiracy theorists’ “leap of faith” into alternative discourses without commensurate critical thinking and fact-checking:

I share your concerns over truth and falsity, but I wonder how much it has to do with “cognitive tools and intellectual acumen,” and how much to do with the perverse will to believe what one wants to hear, or with the breakdown, in our Internet age, of trust in authority. Conspiracy theories such as QQAnon involve a lot of supposed “logic and analysis” based on “alternative facts,” which in the absence of any other guidance might as well be whatever assertions suit the thesis, or the mood, of the theorist. This is an existential crisis: not merely an inability or unwillingness to think clearly, but a “leap of faith” out of the bewilderment of alternative discourses — to misuse somewhat a concept introduced by Kierkegaard regarding subjectivity.

Within 70 hours, AJOwens continued and clarified his previous comment with his second comment as follows, citing his concerns about some constraining, compromising and conditioning factors such as professional expertise, accessibility of firsthand information, laypersons’ interpretation and comprehension of complex research data, and the psychosocial dynamics of acculturation in navigating between implicitly trusting mainstream narratives and selectively embracing alternative (sub)cultures, when undergoing the process of fact-checking to verify information ranging from news reported by major media outlets to research data and general consensus published by erudite scientific authorities, whilst also acquiescing that pragmatism or expediency in a social environment with divergent political interests has engendered the (post)modern ascent or escalation of relativism, whose subjectivity has even confounded the notion, reliability and public reception of objectivity (entailed in expert knowledge and evidence-based practice), whose applicability and legitimacy have been increasingly strained by the risks and impacts of being ignored, diminished, distorted, perverted, coopted by and conflated with self-assertion, self-interest, modernist dogma or progressive ideology:

My current view (but always puzzled and evolving!) is that the “leap of faith” into alternative discourse cannot necessarily be corrected by “commensurate critical thinking and fact checking.” There are several issues, which I’ll try to outline.

Fact-checking relies on access to “the facts.” But facts are mediated: CNN tells me one thing and OAN tells me another, and unless I can interview their respective sources myself, or even go past those sources to see first-hand the “facts” they are relaying, I’m in a position of trust, [b]ut of course I cannot be in Washington and London and Tehran and Beijing, riffling through the authorities’ filing cabinets. Nor can I always personally validate the data or reasoning behind the consensus on climate science, or genetic modification, or whatever abstruse and difficult discipline (and source material) I would be required to master. To accept the mainstream account is, in the final analysis, a form of acculturation. If I have any reason to distrust the mainstream media — and we have occasionally seen reasons — then I am presented with an invitation to “re-acculturate,” and if the alternative culture suits my personal biases, so much the better. In short, the appeal to “fact-checking” is problematic.

This plays into the appeal of postmodernism as a form of philosophical pragmatism, for example that of Richard Rorty: the idea that what is “true” is, for practical purposes, what is “useful” or “whatever works.” [See Straddling Ontologies, or The Value of a Spoon for an instance.] But what works politically may not be what works in other arenas; and what works ion [sic] one political situation may not work in another. Thus we are thrown into a form of relativism, and it’s not enough to complain about it; we have to show why “what works” doesn’t work. And that is the modern condition, which we can escape only by moving forward somehow; there is no going back. We’re all working on this.

But there is a deeper problem with the very notion of “objectivity.” I’ve talked ab[o]ut this in a couple of my own posts: Objectivity is Subjectivity: Dawkins and Rand and Truth is Subjectivity.

Recently I watched the intriguing documentary The Divided Brain, which suggests that rational thought has gone too far. That’s all very well, but what does it mean for Trump Nation? Are they right to feel rather than think?

As a result of the appeal and privileging of subjectivity in conjunction with the erosion and deemphasizing of objectivity, it has become much harder to foster and maintain a social climate conducive to rational thought and critical thinking, both of which are prerequisites for achieving decent, openminded and well-informed citizenry, for eliminating unjustified distrust of and personal biases in the practice and findings of science, and for maintaining fairness, disinterestedness, factuality and nonpartisanship in journalism. Consequently, there now exists such a dramatically altered reference point or baseline for virtue (a trait or quality deemed to be morally good and valued as a foundation of principle and good moral character) and justice (regarding the administration of the law or authority in maintaining fairness and reasonableness) that morality has been significantly compromised by aimless wavering, pointless faltering, vacuous vagueness or gratuitous arbitrariness between right and wrong or good and bad behaviour; that metaphysics has been reduced to existential angst, psychosocial ennui or abstract theory with little or no basis in reality; and that epistemology is synonymous with blurring the distinction between justified belief and mere opinion.

Born out of the necessity of countering the unrelenting assaults on the validity, reliability and authenticity of claims wrought by infodemic causing media Landscape and information ecosystem pollution, the market of fact-checking is both a new phenomenon and a nascent industry. It entails a process or procedure that authenticates data and verifies factual information to identify and correct errors or imprecisions so as to promote the veracity, accuracy and correctness of reporting and publishing, or to reduce the level of confusion and deception in politics caused by ignorance, myths, rumours, falsifications and fabrications. One would hope that fact-checking is a dependable means by which misquotations, misinformation and disinformation can be curtailed, and people can be discouraged from spreading false or misleading claims. However, the appeal to fact-checking is problematic because subjectivity persistently looms large in the truth-seeking business of fact-checking, which is indispensable for verifying information, authenticating claims or substantiating allegations. To the extent that fact-checkers are humans, it is inevitable that during the act of checking factual information in non-fictional sources, their emotions and experiences can be evoked, recalled or massaged, along with their existing biases, extant viewpoints and prevailing expectations, not to mention their longstanding propensities and eccentricities, and to say nothing of their outstanding passions, desires, urges, impulses, feelings and sentiments as well as their established habits, motives, beliefs and affiliations, plus their past traumas, unhealed wounds, emotional attachments, well-guarded blindspots, clever egos and mental traps, all of which can have some bearing on not only how they feel about the factual information concerned, but also how, what, why, when and with whom they relate to the information. On the whole, the efficacy of fact-checking is not foolproof insofar as fact-checkers are not immune to being liable, susceptible or predisposed to reacting or concluding in certain ways about specific information being checked owing to the far-reaching forces of prevailing paradigms, upbringings, socialization and acculturation, including the subjective outcomes of affective entanglements, emotional contagions, identity issues, personal beliefs, ideological assertions or political leanings rather than the objective outcomes based on concrete facts, unbiased reasons or holistic considerations, regardless of the specific styles and contents of the information. As a result, any information, especially if contentious, deceptive or misleading and delivered as misquotation(s) or disinformation, is often no less potent in its capacity to exert subjective, affective or even unconscious influence on, and to engender bias or fallacy in, even the most seasoned fact-checkers as opposed to the intended targets or recipients of the information, and thus can negatively impact on the validity, reliability and impartiality of fact-checkers’ conclusions. It is therefore unsurprising but profoundly sobering to learn that social fracturing spares not even the community of fact-checkers, who may find themselves argumentatively opposing, vehemently contradicting or irresolvably disagreeing with one another, particularly and ironically when they “aim to get closer to the truth, but their biases can shroud the very truth [that] they seek” to the point of creating, amplifying or entrenching disunity or dissension, as revealed by Stephen J Ceci and Wendy M Williams who investigated “the psychology of fact-checking” and proposed “adversarial fact-checking” as a strategy (akin to arbitration) to inject (counter)balance and viewpoint diversity to facilitate the amelioration of the fact-checking process and environment, especially in the often partisan context and highly strung coverage of political affairs:

Fact-checkers’ decisions have significant consequences for debates about fake news that cannot be overstated. Researchers have studied the cascading cognitive effects of misinformation, and their findings are relevant to current concerns about fake news and to the limitations of fact-checking. Misinformation can be insidious; it can seep into the unconscious mind and influence beliefs and behaviors long after we have forgotten its source or the evidence invoked to support it. Under laboratory conditions, a selection of objective facts and complete fabrications can be presented, and researchers can then examine the spread of misinformation about these facts and whether and how this spread results in false beliefs.

Unlike a pristine laboratory setting, however, the world of politics is messy, and there can be deep disagreements about the facts themselves, as the above contradictory claims illustrate. When it comes to partisan fact-checking about complex issues—which describes much of the fact-checking that takes place in the context of political news—the truth as stated is often the subjective opinion of people with shared political views.

One path to a solution is “adversarial fact-checking.” Fact-checking is often done by teams of two or more journalists rather than by a single person. We propose that political claims continue to be aggressively fact-checked, but by teams of individuals with diverse sociopolitical views; for example, by pairing fact-checkers from major liberal and conservative news sources. This would add little, if any, cost. The media should abandon fact-checkers’ pretext of objectivity and political disinterest and instead acknowledge their sociopolitical leanings in much the way that NPR tries to pit pro and con points of view in political coverage.

Research underscores that fact-checkers’ personal biases influence both their choice of which statements to analyze and their determination of accuracy. Let diverse fact-checkers work as members of an adversarial team, much like two sides in arbitration. Fact-checkers are human beings who live in the real world, rather than in a sociopolitical monastery. Let’s abandon the pretense of objectivity and design a system of adversarial fact-checking that places the evidence for competing claims front and center.

Exposure to contrasting views sometimes happens when a counterclaim appears days or weeks later or an independent fact-checker like PolitiFact requests a retraction, but the key to better cognitive reasoning outcomes is for both sides’ claims to appear simultaneously in the very same report. This would minimize the creation of false beliefs that emerge as a consequence of exposure to only one side. When adversarial fact-checking leads to unresolvable disagreements among team members, readers will be better able to judge how persuasive each side’s argument is and arrive at a more informed conclusion than they would if only one side’s evidence is presented.…

Having each side’s fact-checkers checked by the other side’s fact-checkers could lead to an infinite regress toward an uncertain truth. But this is preferable to belief in a truth that may not exist. Adversarial fact-checkers would debate the same “evidence” and ensure a balanced presentation of the facts. This may not guarantee that fact-checkers will agree or even that readers will discern the truth. But it will reveal the sometimes-tenuous nature of fact-checkers’ claims and the psychological context in which human cognition unfolds—and this would be a meaningful barrier to the spread of fake news and the creation of false beliefs among voters.

The two-sided structure of adversarial fact-checking is analogous to the adversarial or adversary system, which is a legal or judicial system used in the common law countries where two advocates (typically the prosecution and the defence) represent the case or position of their respective parties before an impartial person (usually a judge) or a group of people (usually a jury) attempt to determine the truth and deliver judgement accordingly in an adversarial proceeding. One can hardly attest that it is always a given or certainty that two prejudiced fact-checkers starting from opposite ends of the field will between them be less likely to miss anything than the impartial fact-checker starting at the middle, not to mention that fact-checkers can be as diverse in their fact-checking competence as they are divergent in their subjective determinations. In the worse-case scenario where most or all fact-checkers were insufficiently competent or consequentially flawed in their approach, then it would be (nearly) impossible to reach satisfactory resolution with any amount of fact-checking, whether or not the fact-checkers involved could work or agree with one another. Even if a fortunate stroke of serendipity could bring forth some fact-checker(s) so brilliantly competent as to be able to keep producing unassailable fact-checking results, there would still never be lasting unity or unanimity amongst human beings to achieve a universal acceptance of those results, given that disagreement, dissent and divergence have always been the byproducts or companions of subjectivity. By the same token, citizens are much more likely to be swayed by the findings of fact-checking when both the citizens and the fact-checkers are reasonably like-minded in their tastes, opinions or upbringings, insofar as birds of a feather flock together under the ever-present mediation of confirmation bias, thus further affecting public receptivity towards the findings of fact-checking and compromising how the findings are interpreted or used, even assuming that they are fortunate or prominent enough to be given due care, attention and understanding by citizens in the first place.

Much more sinister, deceptive and treacherous is that which can be presented to the public as something seemingly legitimate but has been skilfully disguised or deviously parcelled as fact-checking, usually disseminated in a combination of sensational storylines, doctored articles, edited footage, manufactured videos, and an elaborate concoction of dubious, fallacious, biased or bogus claims tailor-made by those who participate in radicalization, extremism, disinformation, alternative facts, conspiracy theories, pseudoscience, astroturfing operations or front organizations to gain advantage, exert influence, achieve objectives, confound issues or muddy the waters by misleading, deceiving or inciting target recipients or citizens.

In addition, when there is significant divergence, scant correspondence or little collaboration amongst fact-checkers regarding not only what issues warrant and receive examinations but also what answers and interpretations are prioritized and eventually produced, the usefulness of fact-checking for citizens making sense of the disparate findings and deciding on their relative merits based on the validity and veracity of contested claims can be rendered tenuous. Simply put, determining which version of disputed realities to believe becomes much harder and less viable if there is little or no consensus in the topics, purposes and results of fact-checking, even more so when fact-checkers overwhelmingly disagree on their evaluations of claims, and when citizens are themselves divergent in their views and are saddled with their own motives and biases, all of which can significantly affect how discerning citizens are regarding the factual accuracy of content, including the published findings of relevant fact-checking endeavours.

In the age of adulation, the age of information and the age of reputation, a plausible scenario manifesting as a lucrative genre enabled by the confluence of showmanship, celebrity culture and political spin but vulnerable to misrepresentation and media manipulation is one in which adversarial fact-checking is commodified and presented live in the format of reality television or infotainment, where fact-checking contestants are objectified as gladiatorial adversaries to be celebrated, idolized and glorified by fans and viewers but gradually eliminated by a panel of judges or the viewership of the show based on contestants’ performances, likability and bravado, until a single remaining participant can be announced as the champion fact-checker after a series of intense duelling spectacles amongst the finalists have been strategically staged to satisfy the vogue for macho rodomontade.

Those who subscribe to technoutopianism would be inclined to believe or assert that automations and technologies could eventually be advanced enough or have already matured sufficiently to allow humanity to design(ate) certain expert systems and artificial intelligence as the ultimate fact-checkers, perfectly “neutral” in every way and devoid of human biases, fallacies and subjectivity. Whilst such deep learning algorithms, highly evolved expert systems and sophisticated machine intelligence could be construed as “tools” whose impacts depend on their use(r)s, it would be foolhardy and myopic to deny or ignore that automations and technologies tailored for human societies are not only like “words” reflecting people’s narratives, needs, desires, pursuits and worldviews, but also like “swords” with double edges capable of cutting both ways, often resulting in unforeseen or unintended consequences that can be profound, far-reaching or even irreversible. After all, such “tools” and their creation, auditing and maintenance are not always the natural outcome, inevitable result or preordained progress of scientific advances. In other words, they are frequently the dynamic reflection and interplay of sociopolitical (f)actors and choices, rather than just objective products, rational outputs and efficient outcomes of technologies. Therefore, they are functionally framed by partial view(point)s or mitigated by subjective human affairs, and thus can reproduce, entrench or exacerbate some or all of the following problems:

  • Ecosystemic principles, human rights principles and democratic decision-making are deficient or ignored.
  • Market logic or neoliberalism is consistently allowed to prevail at the expense of human rights and autonomy to the detriment of liberty, sociocultural capital and ecosystemic integrity.
  • Artificial intelligence systems cause unforeseen repercussions or engage in biases and discriminations to the detriment of equality, diversity and sustainability.
  • Analytics, algorithms and outputs of artificial intelligence replicate or exacerbate biases in extant data and policies, or entrench inbuilt forms of discrimination, corruption or malversation.
  • The technology industry is controlled by market-driven definitions of efficiency and skewed towards (re)producing gadgets and services for the affluent and powerful at the expense of taking full account of the humanity and catering for all and sundry, particularly the most vulnerable, disadvantaged or impoverished.

Hence, it is very clear by now that there are entrenched limitations and ongoing caveats in relying on manual fact-checking or intelligent algorithms and high-tech machines to winnow truth from falsehood. Those who are contemplating or coveting additional measures that can be implemented to expand one’s repertoire and resilience against untruth in the era of Misquotation Pandemic and Disinformation Polemic causing Mind Pollution by Viral Falsity may consult the detailed Quotation and Information Checklist provided by SoundEagle🦅ೋღஜஇ.

Post-Truth : Weaponizing Falsity & Normalizing Duplicity

Submitted within half an hour of AJOwensfirst comment is the ensuing insightful commentary of Bryan Wagner, who has also been solicited by SoundEagle🦅ೋღஜஇ to examine 💬 Misquotation Pandemic and Disinformation Polemic: 🧠 Mind Pollution by Viral Falsity 🦠 and share his wisdom on the human condition whose precariousness and many challenges he has come to understand and explicate so well in his own blog as well as his aforementioned commentary, extracted as follows to show his valid concern about social policy whose worth and integrity have become much more vulnerable to being weakened or undone by those who deliberately affect the distribution of social, political or economic power not only by exerting influence or plotting intrigue, but also by the unbridled normalization of replacing facts, probity and reliability with falsity, perfidy, duplicity, hypocrisy, fabrication, falsification and prevarication in the name of self-interest:

We have entered a curious age where there seems to be an automatic bias towards supporting one’s agenda and therefore not presenting facts or actualities but instead presenting a slant that supports and reinforces personal wants. Reality has taken a hard blow because for a lot of the social powerbrokers it no longer matters. This is nothing new when it comes to politics. But it has moved from international policy, where it might have made a little sense as self protection, to social policy where facts, being truthful, and honesty have been shoved aside. Presently, misrepresentation, lying about, and spinning information, has simply become an ACCEPTED norm. Now we are paying people to fact check, it’s hard to support or trust anyone under these circumstances.

Overall, the role of news outlets, social media and messaging apps in distributing misquotations, misinformation and other demonstrable falsehoods through virality; the lack of Internet gatekeepers and information professionals where and when they are most needed; the inability of media outlets and online platforms to moderate content with sufficient promptitude, foresight, transparency and accountability; the surfeit of inaccurate information, post-truth politics, fake news, disinformation, sensationalism and alternative facts from social accounts, media sources, astroturfing operations and front organizations promoting a wide array of dubious ideas, biased views, fraudulent claims, erroneous arguments and illicit activities; the decline of community news, local journalism and regional media ecosystems affecting economic, political, social and cultural life; the prevalent competitions, grievances and acrimonies in news and (social) media; the escalating tensions and animosities expressed via or incited by a litany of complaints, accusations and averments couched in hyperpartisan rhetoric and conflicts plus the undermining of journalistic autonomy and integrity — amidst the demand of corporate interest, the hazard of improper political influence, the weaponization of falsity, the concealment of crime, the normalization of deviance, the mainstreaming of impropriety, the fallout of toxic governance, the erosion of democratic principles, civil societies and social norms, 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, the politicization of science for manipulating public policy and pushing ideological agendas, and the use of populism with brazen disregard for climacteric matters ranging from empirical accuracy and ethical integrity to social justice and national security by extremist groups, divisive parties, despotic rulers, charismatic figures, business oligarchs, dominant ideologues, strategic demagogues, vexatious contrarians, provocative shock jocks, opinionated pundits, rabid commentariats, fervid vigilantes, perfervid rabble-rousers, perverted patriots, perverse militias and pertinacious militants to stoke resentments, incite grievances, legitimize discriminations and unleash the basal instincts of the general population — have all compounded the abovementioned problems and intensified the resulting predicaments on a truly global scale.

Quotational Intelligence, Information Literacy, Critical Thinking, Critical Consciousness, Community Psychology and Sociopolitical Development

There are indeed multiple connections between the misquotation pandemic, disinformation polemic, quotational intelligence, information literacy and media literacy as elaborated in the contexts of cognitive biases, formal fallacies and informal fallacies with all their concomitant social ills and their adverse social and civic outcomes impacting on community psychology (with respect to understanding and enhancing the quality of life of individuals within groups, organizations, institutions, communities and society through collaborative research and action), critical thinking (the rational, sceptical, unbiased analysis or evaluation of factual evidence), critical consciousness (an in-depth understanding of the world, allowing for the perception and exposure of social and political contradictions as well as taking action against oppression), and sociopolitical development (defined as “the process by which individuals acquire the knowledge, analytical skills, emotional faculties, and the capacity for action in political and social systems necessary to interpret and resist oppression.… [it] is vital to human development and the creation of a just society”). In a nutshell, the psychological and sociopolitical saliencies of (mis)quotation and (mis)information within the media landscape and information ecosystem have considerable impacts on the functioning of societies and the welfare of citizens.

Some of these connections listed in the previous paragraph can also be observed in the aforementioned “[j]oint statement by WHO, UN, UNICEF, UNDP, UNESCO, UNAIDS, ITU, UN Global Pulse, and IFRC”, which concludes as follows:

The UN system and civil society organizations are using their collective expertise and knowledge to respond to the infodemic. At the same time, as the pandemic continues to create uncertainty and anxiety, there is an urgent need for stronger action to manage the infodemic, and for a coordinated approach among states, multi-lateral organizations, civil society and all other actors who have a clear role and responsibility in combatting mis- and disinformation.

We call on Member States to develop and implement action plans to manage the infodemic by promoting the timely dissemination of accurate information, based on science and evidence, to all communities, and in particular high-risk groups; and preventing the spread, and combating, mis- and disinformation while respecting freedom of expression.

We urge Member States to engage and listen to their communities as they develop their national action plans, and to empower communities to develop solutions and resilience against mis- and disinformation.

We further call on all other stakeholders – including the media and social media platforms through which mis- and disinformation are disseminated, researchers and technologists who can design and build effective strategies and tools to respond to the infodemic, civil society leaders and influencers – to collaborate with the UN system, with Member States and with each other, and to further strengthen their actions to disseminate accurate information and prevent the spread of mis- and disinformation.

Exacerbated by fast-paced lifestyles, heavy workloads or digital addictions, people living in the highly polluted media landscape and information ecosystem can be significantly more prone to suffering from not just the fallout of misquotations and misinformation and the consequence of partisanship, sectarianism and cultural tribalism, but also the deleterious effects of chronic attention deficit, compassion fatigue, emotional erosion, psychological exhaustion, vicarious trauma, irritability, cynicism, depression or burnout, as they become overexposed, overburdened or overstimulated by the incessant streaming of the latest news via social media feeds, a large proportion of which manifest as attention-grabbing but misleading headlines, fraudulent assertions, dubious claims, biased reports, doctored stories, provocative exposés, scandalous gossips, knee-jerk tweetstorms, incendiary posts, overshared fads, recycled memes, viral videos and images as well as agitational or politically charged pictorial quotes and mordacious cartoons, all of which tend to be crafted specifically to grab public attention with intrigue, shock and outrage rather than depth, nuance and propriety. Inevitably, given the fast news cycles and the flawed consumption of largely piecemeal and uncritical information saturating contemporary life, many people have gravitated or succumbed to cursory understandings, episodic reactions, manufactured distrusts, conspiratorial views, power politics, inflammatory exchanges, blasé attitudes, frivolous trappings and vacuous distractions, thus diluting their capacity for and urgency in dealing with (coherent narratives, definitive accounts, expert indagations and scholarly analyses about) critical issues, worthwhile causes, pivotal matters, farsighted plans, comprehensive strategies and holistic implementations necessary for (re)examining and improving social interaction and human emancipation with respect to quotational intelligence, information literacy, media literacy, community psychology, critical thinking, critical consciousness and sociopolitical development.

In an increasingly populous world, the virulence of the aforementioned social ills and their adverse manifestations in the form of worsening (political) corruption, social polarization, structural inequality, epistemic injustice, endemic exploitation, social exclusion and even systematic persecution has continued to mirror and magnify the severity of anthropogenic impacts on nonhuman beings and the biosphere. Even in critical matters and existential issues beyond the sociocultural sphere of humanity, innumerable climate change deniers, non-renewable energy corporations, pseudoscientists, obscurantists, media presenters and shock jocks have had scant reservations in peddling numerous misquotations and misinformation plus other outright fabrications and demonstrable falsehoods to voice their misleading, misguided, fabricated or fraudulent cases. Analogous to environmental pollution and the global ecological crisis, the misquotation pandemic, disinformation warfare and the heavily polluted state of our global information ecosystem not only inject layers of complexity and intractability into the sociopolitical climate and sociocultural milieu that are already challenging for the public, the press and politics, but also warn of the real possibility or imminent danger of crossing the Rubicon, a (tipping) point of no return, beyond which humanity invalidates its own viability and forfeits the very prospect of its own survival.

It is indeed a bitter irony that the supposed benefits conferred by the ascendency and convenience of the World Wide Web providing a vast digital information space containing documents and other web resources have also resulted in the dissemination of countless concocted materials, shared news and quoted texts of dubious origins and citations, such that the clear signals of various quotations, statements and accounts have increasingly become not just muddied by the noises of misquotations and disinformation but also sullied by the clamours of injudicious sharing of quotations and information by a large number of Internet users and media consumers during the course of interacting with websites, participating in social media, reading (electronic) books and magazines, watching news and videos, and listening to radio and podcasts. As a result, the authenticity, the original context and the true source and validity of a quotation or a piece of information can no longer be automatically guaranteed or easily established unless one exercises further checks against multiple reputable sources, or by other dependable means of authentication as enumerated below in the form of a Checklist by SoundEagle🦅ೋღஜஇ:

  1. Is the quote or information itself accurate?
  2. Do the preceding and following passages change the meaning of the quote or information?
  3. Do people use the key terms in the same way as the source?
  4. What is the source’s actual opinion on the point in question?
  5. Who was the source addressing?
  6. Is the source out-of-date?
  7. Who or what is the source?
  8. Is the source a relevant authority to the issue at hand?
  9. What do other relevant authorities think?
  10. Is the quote or information from a popular source or from the primary peer-reviewed literature?
  11. Is the source actually correct?
  12. Is the quote or information properly sourced and cited?
  13. Is the quote or information supported, contextualized, manipulated or advertised by illustration(s), graphic(s) or audiovisual material(s)?
  14. Is the quote or information a contextomy — a 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”?
  15. Does the quote or information appeal to emotion (which can include appeal to consequences, appeal to fear, appeal to flattery, appeal to pity, appeal to ridicule, appeal to spite, and wishful thinking)?
  16. Is the quote or information
    • Bogus: fabricated and falsely attributed
    • Misattributed: attributed to the wrong person
    • Misquoted: garbled but similar to what the source actually stated
    • Mistranslated: garbled in translation
  17. Does the quote or information contain any claim or argument that is
    • Fallacious: based on a mistaken belief
    • Biased: unfairly prejudiced for or against someone or something
    • Misleading: giving the wrong idea or impression
    • Misguided: having faulty judgement or reasoning
  18. Does the quote or information contain any
    • Formal Fallacy: error in logical form or structure (also called Logical Fallacy, Deductive Fallacy or Non Sequitur)
    • Informal Fallacy: error in content or reasoning (also called Relevance Fallacy, Conceptual Fallacy or Soundness Fallacy)
  19. Is the quote or information apocryphal (meaning false, spurious, bad or heretical) in any general context or usage, especially when it is sourced from text or story of dubious authority or veracity, or is presented in the nature or parlance of
    • Folklore: the expressive body of culture shared by a particular group of people, including customary lore and oral traditions such as tales, proverbs and jokes
    • Factoid: a false statement presented as a fact; a (true but) brief or trivial item of news or information; an item of unreliable information reported or repeated so often that it becomes accepted as fact
    • Urban Legend: a form of modern folklore usually comprising fictional stories, often presented as true, with macabre, humorous, reified, idealized or stereotyped elements rooted in local popular culture for entertainment purposes, or routinely promulgated as semi-serious explanations for random, unsolved, unexplained or intriguing events such as certain conspiracies, mysteries, disappearances and strange objects
  20. Is the quote or information used in or associated with ideas, claims, arguments, agendas, projects, campaigns, propagandas, demagogy, media manipulation, Internet manipulation, 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?

This detailed Quotation and Information Checklist provided above is beneficial to not just laypersons but also those who deal with history, archival research, investigative journalism, media studies, social science, behavioural science, political science, law, (socio)linguistics and information literacy.

Whilst some of us may take comfort in our living in a relatively peaceful and democratic country, there is the danger that democracy is waning globally and illiberal democracy (let alone autocracy, fascism, despotism, authoritarianism and dictatorship) may increase, spread further or be adopted by more politicians and legislators who not only ignore or evade their social responsibilities but also exercise their power to serve their own interests and purposes, thereby increasing poverty, worsening inequality, aggravating discrimination, festering class conflict, corrupting societies with greed, hatred, bigotry, falsity, conspiracy, hegemony, hedonism, extremism, supremacism, fanaticism or jingoism, and creating an exploitative environment ripe for those who intend to participate in the (re)production of misinformation, disinformation, post-truth politics, demagoguery, plutocracy, ochlocracy, oligarchy, kleptocracy, kakistocracy and narcissistic leadership.

The Year of the Pig (5 Feb 2019 – 24 Jan 2020) versus The Years of the Pig Boss (20 Jan 2017 – 20 Jan 2021)

Democracy is not a given. It can be quite fragile, can fail rather badly, and often is approximately as good and benevolent (or bad and malevolent) as the members who practise, control or legislate it. We all need to do our parts in contributing to the smooth and equitable functioning of a civil society and democratic country. SoundEagle🦅 has contributed its share by highlighting many of the most fundamental causes of human flaws and social ills through publishing engagingly detailed and highly analytical blog posts, such that readers can find more penetrating answers and holistic solutions to thorny issues, some of which are exemplified in 💬 Misquotation Pandemic and Disinformation Polemic: 🧠 Mind Pollution by Viral Falsity 🦠.

to be sufficiently equipped with information literacy and media literacy,

It behoves us to develop and maintain a long-term resolve to continually educate ourselves, to learn more about life critically, and to refrain from being circumscribed by our initial chosen vocation or our aspiration to secure a highly profitable vocation. Such a resolve is also the impetus for SoundEagle🦅’s pursuit of truth, knowledge and consilience via interdisciplinarity and multidisciplinarity, as one can amply observe from visiting this website on which this post is published.

Stop Mind Pollution with Critical Thinking

Like history and civic studies, philosophy or critical thinking as a subject, domain or discipline has fallen by the wayside, becoming a specialist field to be taught mainly in the rarefied atmosphere of a university. Deplorably, even tertiary education is not immune from existential crisis affecting its core value, viability and sustainability, and is increasingly vocationalized. In all levels of education, history and philosophy are hardly the only victims of political intrusion and financial calculus. On the whole, art, music and courses in the humanities offered outside the disciplines of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) are usually the most impacted and disadvantaged, even at risk of being adulterated, restructured, amalgamated or eliminated. University education and teaching nowadays can be and are often vocationalized, shortsighted, narrowly focused and coopted by economic, commercial, corporate and political interests. The perennial problems of being underfunded, overburdened, vocationalized and instrumentalized are exacerbated when colleges and universities opt to operate even more aggressively under the model of mass education and customer satisfaction, becoming much more performance-managed, metricized, casualized and marketized under the pervasive influence of privatisation, consumerism, audit culture, managerialism and neoliberal orthodoxy.

In any case, education and legislation are the two major keys for ensuring effective democracy and good governance. However, it is often too late and too difficult to educate or legislate against those who have been poisoned for too long and too deeply by the “me” culture driven by self-interest and political expediency to amass power, influence and wealth by plotting control, intrigue, exploitation, corruption and social polarization.

Saving and rehabilitating humanity via superior education and improved legislation aside, we also need the political economy of saving the planet by combining ecosystemic principles, human rights principles and democratic decision-making whilst tempering market logic and neoliberalism, which are still consistently allowed to prevail at the expense of human rights and autonomy to the detriment of liberty, sociocultural capital and ecosystemic integrity. Yet the entrenched and insidious issues presented by the waning of and assault on democracy, decency and critical thinking have loomed even larger, thus continuing to thwart many efforts mounted to curtail socioeconomic problems and environmental degradations. The overriding paradigm is still one of pegging, pitting or pitching environment against economy, even when facing the stark choice of terminating self-destructive profligacy and overconsumption by design or disaster. Any meaningful shifts in political will and indispensable socioeconomic investments of sufficient scale to meet “the Challenges of Avoiding a Ghastly Future” remain insurmountable hurdles as long as unrestrained misquotation offensives and financed disinformation campaigns persist to promote, protect or prolong improvident behaviours, incompetent administrations, ill-considered legislation, injudicious governance, inimical policies, short-term profits, and unsustainable practices or lifestyles.

In conclusion, as a flawed species causing and worsening (the existential risk of global catastrophe through) the information ecosystem pollution, the world ecological crisis and the sixth mass extinction, it is high time that human beings face the noise and music of the Misquotation Pandemic and Disinformation Polemic causing Mind Pollution by Viral Falsity, so that we may sort ourselves out in the larger scheme of things, and in the natural order. Humankind, the ultimate but flawed being as a whole and on the whole must share the burden and guilt for continually manifesting and festering such predicaments, whose sobering ramifications as well as involute corollaries represent indubitable indicators and fair warnings that humanity as a major force of Nature in the new but brief Anthropocene epoch has indeed lost its sense of proportion and its grasp on perspective to the point of accelerating its own terminal downfall and existential oblivion.

Facing The Noise & Music — Misquotation Pandemic and Disinformation Polemic: Mind Pollution by Viral Falsity

80 comments on “💬 Misquotation Pandemic and Disinformation Polemic: 🧠 Mind Pollution by Viral Falsity 🦠

  1. Greetings, SoundEagle! I am saving this for reference purposes, your points are critically important. Thanks for this thorough account.
    Back in 1973, I woke up an hour early to follow a university-level course on logic and logical fallacies — broadcast on analog TV from Columbia University. The professor was brilliant. I took detailed notes and saved them all these years. My son is quite the same kind of learner and he was interested in those notes, so I gave passed them on to him. 🙂
    You also spur me on to publish a post on my blog that deals with the devolution of critical thought and the contempt for learning — the celebration of ignorance.

    Liked by 7 people

    • Dear Bill Ziegler

      A bespoke acknowledgement is due to you for your perusing the challenging subject matters of this post. Do you remember the full name of the Columbia University professor who presented on analog TV the “university-level course on logic and logical fallacies” in 1973?

      It is time for SoundEagle🦅 to invite you back for another good look since this improved version of the post has been furnished with half a dozen additional images that are enlargeable and commentable, plus two extra paragraphs, the first of which starts with the sentence “The pernicious influences of misquotations and disinformation present severe consequences because the causes, effects and ramifications of …” May you find the post more satisfying, inspiring and morally compelling on your second inspection!

      A special post entitled The Quotation Fallacy “💬” is far more detailed and extensive in dealing with various types and issues of fallacy and bias. This post has undergone many revisions and improvements. You are very welcome to join the various discussions at the comment section of the said post and offer your insight, doubt, opinion, analysis or the like.

      Rose Greeting

      Yours sincerely,
      ܓSoundEagle🦅

      Liked by 4 people

    • Wow Soundeagle, I am so impressed no quick comment can rise to the level of that work of art and thought… How do we fight bad information? By BEING RUTHLESSLY HONEST. And extremely well informed. But then, that’s a full time job… as is the case of yours truly. Of course, my own situation is (very) special, and hard to duplicate.

      However the first requirement is to learn to love the art of debate…

      I got nearly banned from Facebook because of a succession of articles I wrote, using the latest science (Fall 2020) to show that the mask masquerade contributed to the COVID epidemic. My references and reasonings were all scientific (2020 research from Nature, Science, CDC, etc…) In toto, I have 10,000 words on that subject alone… You should have heard the screaming… Aside from the validity and public service of what I wrote, the outcry per se was an interesting object of study…

      Now one can get banned from Twitter for quoting Trump… the vengeance of the plutocrats… Lies are the ecology plutocrats prefer and harvest… Hence the pandemic of lies…

      Anyway more later after I study more what you wrote…

      Liked by 3 people

  2. If my head wasn’t spinning before, it is now after reading your post. Well, I admit skimming over a couple of things.
    Anyone who has missed or misinterpreted the information is a big …….

    Liked by 4 people

    • Dear ladysighs

      Welcome, Esther Edith, to SoundEagle🦅’s multidisciplinary playground, intellectual home, sonic nest, musical den and artistic eyrie, where you can savour plenty of Prose, Poetry, Art, Science, Graphics, Cartoons, Animations, Games, Puzzles, Music and Videos.

      Completing your sentence: “Anyone who has missed or misinterpreted the information is a big confounder.”

      As excerpted below, your “About” page shows that you have been a lover of quotations:

      About

      “I love quotations because it is a joy to find thoughts one might have, beautifully expressed with much authority by someone recognized wiser than oneself.” ~Marlene Dietrich

      I thought it would be fun to make a blog of quotations. I am looking for some I have never read. They will not be hard to find. And why not add a picture too?

      Being one of SoundEagle🦅’s finest contributions on this website, the encyclopaedic post entitled The Quotation Fallacy “💬” has great potential to be a special treat and long-term guide for you, given your ongoing fascination with quotations. You will be pleased to know that the two navigational menus located respectively at the top and bottom of the said post can facilitate your reaching specific sections of the post instantly so that you can resume reading over multiple sessions in your own time to enjoy perusing in manageable chunks without your head spinning like the windmills of your mind: “Round like a circle in a spiral, like a wheel within a wheel. Never ending or beginning on an ever-spinning reel.”

      May you find the rest of 2020 very much to your liking and highly conducive to your writing, thinking and blogging as well as quoting!

      Rose Greeting

      Yours sincerely,
      ܓSoundEagle🦅

      Liked by 3 people

      • Seems somebody has been spending a lot of time leaving likes here and there. And reviving Esther Edith from her deep sleep.
        She’s been idle these many years. She likes the attention but can be a bit feisty.

        Liked by 3 people

  3. Soundeagle, well done. I like the Quotation and Information Checklist. Thanks, Keith

    Liked by 4 people

  4. As you say, SoundEagle, truth is difficult to come by these days. But we asked for this disorder and confusion. We swallowed the lie that there is no such thing as objective truth and moral certainty. Satan relishes this state of affairs. But as a Christian I can attest that Christ alone is the way, the truth, and the life. ❤ ❤ ❤

    Liked by 5 people

  5. Reblogged this on nickweechblog's Blog and commented:
    An excellent post with lots of helpful information.
    Learn the truth to help you survive all these lies we’re surrounded by in 2020into 2021

    Liked by 3 people

  6. This is and amazing amount of information. What I will never understand is somewhere in the 70’s when the media turned from news people to columnists. We no longer listen to facts we listen to opinions and believe them to be true. I believe nothing anymore unless I can verify it my self. As far as the national stuff goes, I accept what is said but consider the source and its motives.

    Spread Holiday Laughter

    Liked by 4 people

  7. As a social science professional, I applaud you for this this post. It discusses one of the most important topics that social studies teachers and administrators teach and preach. Have you read the book, Trust Me, I’m Lying? I have a review of it on my blog. https://tchistorygal.net/2017/08/17/trust-me-book-review/. The book is a must read for every blogger.

    To your topic of using and misusing quotes, you know that I have started a Hobby Blogger’s Challenge Called Writer’s Quotes Wednesdays Writer’s Challenge. The new topic of Celebration came out today. The Challenge, in it’s fourth week, hasn’t taken hold yet, but this article is a cautionary tale of what it might become. My hope is that the quote that a writer chooses will become a source of inspiration for a poem or fiction, but it could well be an opinion piece, which could lead to some of the problems you discuss in this post of narrowing down the the crowd to a group of similar thinkers. I don’t have enough data to know the answer to that yet.

    In defense of using and/or misusing quotes, taking quotes out of context and adding a picture is exactly what I do when I participate in a photo challenge or in WQWWC because I am telling the story of my life, or at least my photograph and I think using a quote adds interest.

    As I do this, I find that I don’t have a clue who the author of the quote is. As a social scientist, I spend time researching who said the quote. Even then, I am not researching the entire context of the quote before I use it. I’m searching a topic and finding a quote that I think fits a picture.

    As you say some people are not using quotes to deliberately mislead people. I hope I am one not of those people, but my use of quotes is very shallow. I try to stay away from political topics that might attract “preachers of their own gospel.”

    Who knows where WQWWC will go? If it goes awry, then I have the obligation to quit publishing the challenge. If it doesn’t take off in a year, I will stop doing it anyway. In the meantime, I expect you, SE, as a member of my Hobby Blogging Community, Always Write, to comment and keep the posts in line just as I am commenting on your blog and you have commented on mine in the past.

    This comment has become a post in itself. I appreciate what you have written here because it is a very serious problem that is tearing our country apart politically. I will reblog this post sometime after Christmas in conjunction with WQWWC.

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  8. Thanks for sharing your checklist, great way to discern truth, or at the very least increase awareness of the media’s complicity.
    Have a joyous, wonderous holiday season, stay warm and be safe!
    Much love ❤

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  9. A comprehensive and considered piece of academic writing.

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