It was bad enough that the world saw that the Philippines had elected a senator who appeared incapable of responding directly to fairly simple questions asked of him in a 25-minute conversation with a television show host. What was worse was, Senator Antonio Trillanes’ interview at BBC’s HARDTalk, hosted by Stephen Sackur, showed that he was prepared and more interested to sow disinformation, dishing out information without factual basis. His objective was clearly to discredit, if not bring down, President Rodrigo R. Duterte. Unfortunately for him, he succeeded in accomplishing the very opposite. He embarrassed himself as he made statements which were completely not responsive to the questions. In no time at all, his interview spread on social media with comments that ranged from heckling to jeers, to outright revulsion and loathing.
Senator Trillanes may perhaps have banked on the fact that disinformation has effectively been used by leaders around the world to sway and control the minds of people. For instance, as written by Nour Salman, a media and cultural studies researcher, Russia has come to the forefront of the disinformation war in the digital media age. It has far exceeded the Soviet Union’s capacities with the flow of propaganda both internally and externally, Salman added. With this, the Russian government is able to limit the Russian public’s access to information on internal problems, focusing on external threats to garner support for the Russian government’s foreign policy maneuvers.
In this age of digital media, one who seeks to earn the trust and support of the people must be ever-conscious of speaking the truth. In cases that are heard by courts, for example, one who foists lies loses his credibility and loses his case.
What is disinformation and how is it different from misinformation?
Both entail the absence of truth, but disinformation entails intentional deception. James Fetzer of the University of Minnesota explains that misinformation can be defined as a false, misleading or mistaken information while disinformation entails the distribution, assertion, or dissemination of false or misleading information in an intentional, deliberate or purposeful effort to deceive, confuse and sway the audience’s perception.
While the age of social media has made the world smaller by connecting people and making access to information fast and easy, the downside is, it has also made it easier for people with their own agenda to create and disseminate inaccurate and false information. Disinformation is sometimes called the proliferation of fake news but Salman refers to it as the weaponization of information. What this essentially means is that both the state and non-state actors can play an influential role in changing public perceptions about a certain crisis, topic or person to push their own agenda. Weaponization of information or disinformation is a skill where the actors use the tools of a free society such as the media and social media to distort reality, Kenneth Weinstein explains.
Anyone who is minded to sow disinformation whether through mainstream media or the social media must remember that truth has a way of catching up and exposing the ill intention of the actor. One must remember too that there are laws that can make one answerable for his acts.