We as a society are working to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic through an organized, nationwide effort. For most, their role in containing the virus is to work from home when possible, wear a mask and generally minimize the risk that they contract and spread the coronavirus. For others, their job is to develop and distribute a vaccine that will protect people against the virus. The goal is to have a high proportion of the population who are immune, which will make person-to-person spread unlikely.
There is a second pandemic permeating this country and the world: information disorder. Information disorder is a term coined by Claire Wardle, an expert on the online spread of bad information. It means fabricated information or that which is spread with the intent to cause harm. According to research at Stanford University, calling this information viral is not an exaggeration; researchers used modelling software designed to study Ebola to map the spread of bad information during the 2016 election.
The consequences of information disorder are all too plain to see. Last Wednesday, information disorder caused by lies about widespread election fraud led thousands of President Donald Trump’s supporters to leave one of his speeches and invade the Capitol. There, they looted congressional offices, attacked members of the press and killed a police officer.
It’s time to develop herd immunity. We need to make ourselves less susceptible to bad information and stop it when we see it. We need to intentionally create a counter to the conspiratorial milieu, a culture of engagement with good, truthful information.
This term, as part of the Emerald Trust Project, the Daily Emerald is committing to including the public in more of our content creation. We call upon the students, parents, faculty and staff of the University of Oregon to not only subscribe to our newsletter and read our reporting, but reach out to reporters with tips, submit letters to the editor and pitch short-run podcasts about little-known aspects of the community. Engage with reporters on social media and when you see us on-the-job. As always, I encourage people to email me at email@example.com if you have other ideas.
At the Emerald, we don’t only want to provide the community with information they can use in daily life, nor do we only want to develop first-rate reporters who will continue with the Emerald’s ethos of actively building trust in the communities they report on. We want our readers to go forward as engaged, critical media consumers.
I’m not going to pretend like the Emerald and UO are going to reverse the tide and end information disorder once and for all, but it’s equally wrong to act like we’re powerless. Together we can create an environment where bad information can’t take root, but we have to start here and now.