Sunday October 01, 2017

The misinformation about disinformation

Caroline Jack's report is called "Lexicon of Lies: Terms for Problematic Information"

Caroline Jack's report is called "Lexicon of Lies: Terms for Problematic Information"

Listen 9:07

Caroline Jack hopes to clear up some misinformation about disinformation.

She's a postdoctoral scholar at the Data and Society Research Institute. It's  a New York Ciity non-profit that researches issues that come up as data-driven systems become a big part of everyday life. One of those issues is "problematic information", what many people refer to as fake news.

The terms we use to describe problematic information do not always have mutually exclusive definitions, and their meanings can be blurry and create a lot of confusion.

Caroline Jack

Caroline Jack. (Butcher Wallace)

That's why Caroline wrote a report called Lexicon of Lies: Terms for Problematic Information. "It's a guide to terms for media content, but ultimately we have imperfect words for an imperfect world," Caroline says.

She believes those imperfect words can carry a lot of baggage. Baggage that can lead to assumptions about how information spreads, who spreads it, and who receives it.

The idea with the Lexicon of Lies was to create a user-friendly guide that would help writers, speakers, and thinkers discuss the issue of problematic information more clearly.

"Writing this was a way to talk about some of those ideal type terms, what they're used for, what they imply, but also to invite people into this kind of conversation about how these categories that look like rigid boxes are actually more like squishy zones."

Caroline realizes that the matter goes beyond just choosing the right word to describe the information in question. Figuring out the intentions behind a piece of content is difficult.

"There's just no way to get inside someone's mind and know what their intent is so we really need to be cautious about assigning intent to people."

Caroline is hopeful that we can restore the validity of the press and other institutions. "I think there's a lot of desire right now for someone to say okay, how do we find truth again? How do we find reliability? How do we find the legitimacy of the media? Those two notions of truth and reliability are really wrapped up in that."