misinformation experts

Do Conservative Misinformation Experts Exist?

4 March 2024

3.4 MINS

If a recent study is anything to go by, it seems that conservative misinformation experts are about as common as married bachelors or honest thieves.

I just found out that there’s a peer-reviewed journal dedicated entirely to the topic of misinformation.

It was brought to my attention this week in a tweet by Bjorn Lomborg, who had evidently been browsing its pages.

Misinformation Review is the publication’s rather benign title. Launched in 2020, the open-access journal is run out of the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School — Harvard University’s school of public policy and government. Wheels within wheels and all that.

The journal’s website boasts that “over 40 misinformation experts from over 20 different universities and institutes” serve on its Editorial Board, and that its pages are viewed hundreds of thousands of times annually.

What could possibly go wrong?

Plenty, according to Bjorn Lomborg.

Barely a Conservative in Sight

“Misinformation experts are perhaps not quite unbiased,” he wrote on X, summarising the contents of a research article profiled at Misinformation Review. “Experts leaned strongly toward the left of the political spectrum.”

How far left? There was barely a conservative in sight. Check it out:

This fact was not advertised in the article. It was hidden in one short paragraph in the appendices, from which Lomborg had crafted his own homemade graph: “Experts leaned strongly toward the left of the political spectrum: very right-wing (0), fairly right-wing (0), slightly right-of-centre (7), centre (15), slightly left-of-centre (43), fairly left-wing (62), very left-wing (21).”

One of the headline findings of the paper was that almost all of these misinformation experts credited partisanship and confirmation bias as top reasons why people believed and shared misinformation. Irony much?

Granted, the “misinformation experts” in view were consulted specifically for this paper, and don’t necessarily represent the editorial views of Misinformation Review. But there were 150 of them — “150 experts on misinformation from across academia”.

So, where were all the conservative misinformation experts that the paper’s authors failed to survey? Perhaps they were out to lunch that day. Or maybe — here’s my theory — conservative misinformation experts are about as common as married bachelors, poor millionaires and honest thieves.

Skewing the Narrative

It’s no secret that the vocabulary of misinformation, disinformation and malinformation invaded mainstream discourse with a vengeance shortly after Brexit and Donald Trump’s surprise 2016 election victory.

The internet’s fabled democratisation of information — buoyed by the rise of social media and the smartphone in the mid-to-late noughties — had been far more successful than ever anticipated. Brexit and Trump sounded the alarm: trust in Western institutions was in tatters. With the help of independent journalism, the masses had started forming their own views away from the ubiquitous narratives of the legacy press and the bureaucracy.

In short, the misinformation industrial complex was a belated reactionary movement of the elites aimed at suppressing populist common sense.

(If you really want your epistemic cage rattled, watch Tucker Carlson’s recent interview with former US State Department Head of Cyber Mike Benz. Benz argues the psychological toolkit of the industry was first crafted by US intelligence agencies to “democratically” overthrow foreign governments in Eastern Europe, before being redeployed against American citizens in more recent years).

The rest is history — whether the lunacy of the Covid-19 era, Elon Musk’s middle-finger acquisition of Twitter/X, or the simultaneous attempt in almost every Western jurisdiction to introduce misinformation bills, misinformation czars or misinformation departments.

A Guise for Censorship

In a follow-up to his tweet, Bjorn Lomborg shared a link to an essay by philosopher Dan Williams, who takes apart the logic of the entire misinformation industrial complex in just two short paragraphs:

On the one hand, if researchers define the concept so that it only includes clear-cut falsehoods, misinformation appears to be relatively rare in the media ecosystem and largely symptomatic of other problems, at least in Western democracies.

On the other hand, if researchers define the concept to include subtler ways in which communication can be misleading even when it’s not demonstrably false, the concept becomes so expansive, amorphous, and value-laden that we shouldn’t trust misinformation experts to decide what counts as misinformation.

He then cites a humorous and illustrative instance of this: a 2018 Science article titled ‘The spread of true and false news online’, which purported to show that false rumours on Twitter “diffused significantly farther, faster, deeper, and more broadly than the truth in all categories of information”.

The article proved enormously influential and was hyped by an eager corporate media, and has been regularly cited by misinformation researchers as established fact.

The problem? “The article provides no justification for these claims!” Williams writes. It merely “attempts to make generalisations about the spread of true and false claims on Twitter by studying the spread of claims that are classified as true or false by six fact-checking organisations”.  Sampling bias and fact-checker fallibility be damned.

The “misinformation experts” can keep trying to censor me all they want, and shove their version of truth down my throat.

But as long as they remain some of the worst peddlers of misinformation, I’ll keep trusting my gut — and prefer the many independent journalists who have forsaken careers, wealth and prestige to get the truth out.

___

Republished with thanks to Mercator. Image courtesy of Unsplash.

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2 Comments

  1. Warwick Marsh 4 March 2024 at 9:45 am - Reply

    Great work Kurt! Grounbreaking article!!!!!!

  2. Stephen Lewin 4 March 2024 at 4:41 pm - Reply

    thanks Kurt …yes a pioneering article

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