WIRED’s Gilad Edelman on the role of social media in propagandaMay 2, 2022
"The use of 'true' and 'false' claims in propaganda is pretty complex," said Gilad Edelman, a senior writer for WIRED. He was speaking to Orchid's Derek Silva on this week's episode of the Priv8 Podcast.
"People who make propaganda can often use something that is technically true -- or true in some limited sense -- to advance an argument that is false, even dangerously so."
Gilad pointed out that propagandists who manipulate facts can also benefit from ambiguity about what is factual and what is not. "Identifying what's impermissibly false can be really challenging," he said.
"I wrote about this a lot last summer in relation to the pandemic. People could take something that was technically true, present it outside of the right context, and thereby use it to imply something false was true -- for instance, that vaccines are dangerous or don't work, or something like that."
"So the things that propagandists are doing is not necessarily spreading misinformation -- instead, they use true information to mislead."
This presents a major moral and ethical dilemma for social media platforms. "While misleading people can be just as bad as lying to them, depending on social media platforms to determine which narratives are true or not gives them way too much power. We cannot -- and should not -- expect tech companies to take on that level of policing."
Still, the misleading nature of the information presented on many online platforms makes it so that it's not always easy for people to tell truth from fiction. "There have been plenty of situations where I really actually sympathize with social media platforms," he said. "Because although they are private companies, they've had to take on such a central position in public discourse."
It's not an easy spot to be in. "People get upset, and say things like, 'Oh, look at all this misinformation that someone is tweeting'" -- and, for example, expect Twitter to delete the tweets in question. "But often, if you take a closer look at the claims that one person believes to be misinformation, their local newspaper may have reported the same statements as fact."
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