Is This the End of Trust

Managing Truth in the Disinformation Age

Trust is something that is essential for the functioning of any society,as it driven by information exchange.

We do not know what the other party is thinking about us:

  • Is he going to rob me?

  • Cheat me?

  • Help me? or

  • Do as he says?

But we have come to rely on trust: having faith that most people in the world are dealing in good faith. This is key to any transaction: without it, we are both losers, me and the other party to the transaction.

This could be you and your banker, a business and its suppliers, two contracting parties—just about any strong relationship you know today would be nonexistent without it.

Yet there is a tragedy unfolding before our eyes: when whole structures of the society (the governments and other nonstate actors) are actively promoting a spirit of undisguised suspicion.

We are entering an era where trust will be a rare commodity not only between nations, but people.

So it was not surprising when this research showed that trust in the public media and government institutions had gone down during the COVID-19 times.

Ordinary citizens no longer rely on the media and government as sources of authentic information. While the research was conducted in the United Kingdom, it more or less reflects a worldwide sentiment of news consumers: we all feel vulnerable to deliberate falsehoods and disinformation.

We used to think that it is propaganda when a disinformation campaign was engineered by the state to deceive its citizens. A state would make sure to sweeten its end of any deal so that it may appeal to its patrons: those who hold power as the electorate. So propaganda could be used as a weapon to persuade the citizenry to support a government through its programmes.

Today, in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, no one is really sure of what is going on. One thing stands out though: we are not getting the true picture, and this is fertile ground for conspiracy theories.

Why? Because nobody really knows the true nature of the beast (COVID-19) that has confronted the whole world today. And ignorance breeds fear and suspicion:

  • How did this all start?

  • Who is responsible for its spread?

  • When will it end?

  • Who benefits from such a global pandemic in terms of political or economic dominance?

Each of us seeks to get answers from whichever source we like the most: this could be religion, public research, mass media or elders.

But what we are certain in world politics is that there is some concerted effort between the West and the East to discredit each other.

Some old rivalries are revived (between the U.S. and Russia), with new fires being kindled. The Sino-U.S. Trade war is now being fought with new weapons: the information arsenal.

Each side seeks to be in charge of the whole narrative of how the other parties (other than itself) are being reckless. With with the prevalence of social media into the mix, getting the true picture of the disease may be difficult. Whereas scientists are supposed to work together regardless of their background, we are seeing the politicisation of research and education.

This leaves the mill of conspiracy theories active in the meantime. As long as there is no standard of information dissemination agreed at international level, it is a matter of believing what you want to. In essence, what a person on the street believes is what approximates his or her own idea of the truth.

This article on disinformation campaign highlights some of the problems that are inherent in online sources of news.

But now the issue is no longer of social media versus traditional sources of news: it is a question of who is to benefit from a disinformation campaign.

Or Put in another way: who is to lose out?

Western media casts doubt on Russian and Chinese sources, painting them as outlets of unreliable information. In fact, the EU recently had to take steps to fight disinformation.

Still it is not that old story of distrust between Western and Eastern powers. This has to do with information control.

When a viral video by the so-called American Frontline Doctors announced to the world that there is a systematic attempt to suppress information that could help COVID-19 patients, it caused an uproar in both the mass media and research communities.

This week was particularly eventful due to the crusade by the American Frntline Doctors, who had been kicked off various social media for their message that cast into doubt the currently received wisdom about COVID-19.

The following list of articles show the magnitude of this reaction to these doctors within a space of four days:

  • This article gives a background as to who these doctors are.

  • and how they are to be discredited not only for their political views but even their shady credentials.

  • However, these are real doctors, though experts think that they do not know what they are talking of.

  • And now we are told of more grim news that that it is possible that "until the end of time" We might not have a cure for COVID-19.

  • But why were they doing this? This guy provides to me what sounds to

be a plausible explanation. Watch him here, and make your own judgement.

The problem with information is that we are no longer sure of who to believe: he that tells you something wants you to believe them. Isn't this the same old script that whatever we know today of history is the story of victors? Losers leave no tales to tell.

What could be happening right now is that in the information age, almost everyone can put out his or her own story. There will always be listeners to the story. Nobody controls the channels of information as in the past.

The bad news is that it is not healthy for trust to break down, especially when as a whole international community we need each other to confront this common threat to humanity itself. There is hope in these dark times, though.

We read of the human challenge trial movement , to find a vaccine for Corona virus. This movement launched by Josh Morrison has got volunteers like this guy who indeed are prepared to save the rest of humankind by infecting themselves with COVID-19.

So finally, can we say is this the end of trust, or just its raw manifestation in the face of a pliant media? Perhaps, perhaps not—after all as humans we are a suspicious lot.