Some ideas to combat disinformation on social media

31/05/22

The use of SOCIAL MEDIA in order to direct, condition and influence a target-subject assumes that a series of conditions and elements have been identified, including the objectives to be achieved, the global modalities of the action and the temporal dimension, and that a sort of profiling, or segmentation, of the audience has been carried out.

Given the potential effectiveness of using SOCIAL MEDIA in order to guide ideas, opinions, attitudes, but also emotions and subliminal perceptions of the target-subject it would be worth considering these mezzi like a real work capable of creating - so to speak - an alternative reality, sometimes a parallel reality or, in any case, new scenarios.

At the time when the construction of alternative representations of reality kicks off and is consolidated, the positioning of people towards what is happening can change even in an extremely significant way. After all, we have known for some time the physiological constructive work of the human mind which, certainly, is not limited to photograph the existing - not even in the simplest mechanisms of perception-evaluation - but precisely builds, in a certain sense, the reality that surrounds it.

One of the many modalities of this construction is the attribution of meaning to events, facts and behavior of people. A phenomenon that is clearly visible when, in the face of it done - which, as such, it would be difficult to deny - different, if not completely opposite, representations and explanations are conveyed. Hence, the impact that the SOCIAL MEDIA goes far beyond the cognitive sphere - intelligence and the so-called higher functions - influencing the inner world and those aspects of the person that are not under the control of the will and logical-rational thinking.

It may be interesting to note that in the world of market-oriented organizations (in particular, multinational organizations) the so-called emotional selling for the proposition of products and services, and we speak fluently of the need for to build - precisely - one successful fiction around proposals that are addressed to potential customers. The narrativethe narrations, represent content that, if well managed, can have a strong impact in the target-audience, and it is no coincidence that the importance of command narrative, understood as a framework on which communications, messages, orders and actions of the command are based, aimed at involving, consolidating and preventing.

In this context we place ourselves in the contemporary physiognomy of what has long been classified as PSYOPS, Psychological Operationsthe Special Operations, an area in which information, disinformation and propaganda actions have always played a prominent role - see the work carried out byOSS Morale Operations (MO) branch during the Second World War. What today - enriched and strengthened by a myriad of characteristic elements of our age - is identified as Psychological Warfare o cognitive war.

The system of SOCIAL MEDIA - which on the one hand are vehicles of messages but, on the other hand, messages themselves - is configured as a kind of propaganda incubator which, if activated in the gray areas of hybrid warfare, can not only condition the present and the future, but also redefine and, in a certain sense, overwrite the past.

In order to make the use of social media effective, those knowledge of social, cognitive, dynamic and personality psychology are thus operationalized which, for example, indicate the ways to engage with a socially widespread prejudice and build on it an artfully finalized representation. that it can take the place - in the perception-evaluation of the subject - of the previous vision of reality. And this is just a simple example of how social media can work.

Thus opens the field to the question "what to do?" in order to counter the deforming power of the social media system used by illiberal and autocratic states against Western democracies.

What could be defined as the basic condition for structuring an effective defense against disinformation in all its types and forms, conveyed through social media, is related to a preventive gender dimension, of a social and cultural nature, with a broad spectrum . Indeed, a goal of the democratic state should be to do everything in order to train aware citizens, actively participate in social life and distinguished by what is defined as the character of active citizenship.

Be properly educated - in the sense of education of any type and at any age of life - allows you to develop that critical attitude towards the information that reaches the recipient's ears and eyes which, in turn, allows them to reason in a conscious and rational way. A critical attitude that is far from the many and deleterious forms of dietrology according to which the first question that comes to mind is cui prodest? (who benefits ?, ed)

Indeed, it can be said that where healthy critical consciousness is not adequately developed, there is room for rumors (as they are defined in the world of organizations), to pessimistic hypotheses, to seeing everything with skepticism, distrust, suspicion and cynicism.

Therefore, having a good and broad base (the entire population will never be covered, of course) of citizens who possess knowledge and skills, have acquired good levels of education and know decode the messages coming from the outside undoubtedly constitute a very valuable basic factor. For this reason (and for many others) one should view with great concern the distorted use that young people (but not only) tend to make of social media as TikTok, but also to disturbing data that continue to emerge from social surveys such as those of Fair Trade Welfare Report of ISTAT (2022) which indicates in 23% the percentage of young people between 15 and 29 who do not study or work.

In parallel S reported the increase in school dropout and the disheartening test results OECD PISA which are regularly applied every three years in ninety-three countries to samples of 2018-year-olds. In 33 (pre-pandemic period) 2021% of Italian XNUMX-year-olds achieved a result that indicates (among other things) the presence of considerable problems in understanding unfamiliar texts of medium complexity and length. In XNUMX the tests OECD PISA have not been performed, but if the students at the end of high school are evaluated, the inadequacy of skills emerges in 51% of cases in mathematics, and in 44% in Italian: the conclusion is that the ability to understand the texts of these subjects is still a few years earlier, that is, at the time of the previous diploma, that of the eighth grade.

They are people of this type who, one day, could easily fall prey to messages distorted by disinformation and to operations aimed at influencing and influencing.

Beyond this basic requirement - on which, however, it would be necessary to intervene by the various state and governmental apparatuses - the timeliness of response the disinformation message (or campaign) is certainly a winning factor. What is certain is that in this dimension one is already in the perspective of reaction to something that has already happened or is unfolding, so, in a sense, we already start with an initial handicap: the field has already been occupied by those who have the purpose of misinforming. But if the reaction to the very first signs of disinformation, to the first moves aimed at inducing confusion and uncertainty in the target audience, were timely, on the one hand, it could limit their influence in terms of the number of people reached and, on the other, , block the development of those in the bud echo chambers which tend to amplify and consolidate the distorting messages.

It goes without saying that, even in this situation, if we had moved in time, that is, if the field had been previously occupied by sound intelligible and well-oriented information, the messages of the other party would have a limited space of approach from the beginning and insertion.

The promptness of reaction is matched by the need not to limit oneself to isolated actions to counter disinformation but to implement global and fan action, then using what we call the social media system (and not to employ a single and specific means of mass communication). Repeat the contrast messages in order to overlap the background noise and the misinformation can lead to repositioning i target-audiences provided that the right tactics are applied for each sector of recipients and that the most appropriate channels are activated.

In order to restore a vision of reality that is as responsive as possible to expectations and strong enough to counteract distorting, false or ambiguous messages, the factor of credibility of the senders of the messages, their authority and the critical analysis of the perception that the recipients have (or may have) of them. With respect to this last dimension, it must be borne in mind that a subject may be credible for a target population but completely gray, anonymous or worse (i.e. not very reliable) for another target: not specifying this element, or confusing emitters and targets can lead to to the boomerang effects that will subsequently be difficult to recover.

Where it appears appropriate to the circumstances, communication can move on impacts with various emotional content and, in any case, always paying attention to differentiate and measure the quantity-quality of rationality, emotionality and their gradations, so to speak, to which a message can hook. Even in this case, not everyone is inclined to follow logical communications, perfect in their architecture, complete and rational, but completely devoid of that charge of potential involvement that can take and envelop the recipient and, thus, lead them more easily to welcome. the content of the message.

Together with the activities of fact-checking (verification of facts and sources, ed) and of de-bunking (refutation of false news or claims, ed) and, more generally, to the forecasting capabilities with respect to possible launches of distorting messages and / or their concrete impact on populations already invested by them, it is therefore important to underline the risk of wanting to counter disinformation by means of cold, aseptic, if not bureaucratic, denial messages. It is no coincidence that the study of the great civil and military speakers has always been an object of greatest interest regarding the many ways of managing concepts and information.

At the end of these brief notes I think it is important to highlight that the fight against disinformation conveyed through social media must have the minimum purpose of limiting the damage to the suggestibility of the audience - up to its real infantilization - and the maximum purpose of overturning the reference context, offering the audience itself the tools to correctly decode the messages it receives.

prof. Andrea Castiello d'Antonio (clinical psychologist, psychotherapist, occupational psychologist)