How to Be Disinformed

A Citizen’s Guide to Life in the Disinfosphere

Is 1/6 the 9/11 of the American disinformation age?

Just as 9/11 awakened the nation to the mostly unperceived threat of global terrorism, all Americans need to understand that we are under attack in a way that may prove as damaging as any conventional war. As we face a future of sharpening division, climate change, and recurring pandemics, those problems are being worsened by an epidemic of disinformation. What’s at risk is democracy itself, as the rising disinfosphere can subvert or even kill it.

We don’t have to accept that the slide into a new cold civil war, driven by disinformation, is inevitable. Here’s the silver lining: the same ideas that have helped us survive the global pandemic can also show us how to inoculate against disinformation, slow its spread, and, ultimately, achieve herd immunity. This book explores how to recognize disinformation and what actual viruses can teach us about managing the infodemic so we can do more than live with it—we can rise above it.

Get ready to smash the infodemic curve. We have the tools, we have the track record, and we have the lessons we need from virology to fight against a different kind of invasion.

If this sounds like uplift, it’s meant to be. Each chapter of this book examines a different facet of the issue and offers a different kind of solace and empowerment. Some of it isn’t new, yet new again: conspiratorial thinking in American history even infected some of our founding fathers. There are very effective off-the-shelf disinformation countermeasures waiting to be revived for the digital age. All of us might take back some control by understanding, through exercises in troll-busting and illustrations lifted from the actual disinformation playbook used by Russian civil servants, how to avoid being fooled again.

Drawing on the latest emerging research and techniques for combating disinformation, but always grounded in personal, eye-opening experiences and background in information sciences and literacy, How to Be Disinformed paints a far-ranging portrait of an encompassing and often subterranean social problem. It touches on everything from the audacious growth of foreign disinformation journalism networks within the United States to economic resilience, slacktivism and radical humility, digital contact zones and the new Berlin Wall that cuts through the once-United States.

Ultimately the book offers a series of practical personal and national steps leading toward herd immunity. Without preaching or soft-pedaling the enormity of the problem, the message is one of encouragement and ethical readiness as we grapple with a disease of the body politic as much as the human body.

Disinformation isn’t going away any time soon, and experts are split on whether it will get better or worse over the coming decade.  The fact is, we are all occasionally disinformed, and wired to be, and we need to embrace humbly the difficult work of being dis-disinformed. We desperately need to reemphasize the virtue of humility and the uncertainty that comes from our intrinsic cognitive frailties. Because disinformation is an existential threat to our democracy, we must turn to our braver angels, including pluck and wild invention and the sort of American courage that looks like grace under pressure.

To survive, in its Latin roots, means to live above. We may have no choice but to inhabit a disinfosphere that is not of our making, but we can learn to see it and to recognize its harms, and to build something better in response. We may find ourselves, at times, strangers and afraid, in a world we never made. Yet the one thing we absolutely must not do, when living in the disinfosphere, is to allow fear and doubt to become our first way of seeing.

In short, How to Be Disinformed shows how we might truly survive disinformation—to love and live above it.

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