Estimated 3 minute read: Coronavirus Information Overload: facts, information, misinformation and disinformation how do we make sense of which is which?
The times we live in are riddled with information overload. From the mass media outlets that are arguably “real news”, even though they are famed for their clickbait headlines, through to fake news. Government and health authority information sites and those from trusted sources being ignored whilst social media posts from some bloke down the pub (when we used to be allowed to go to them) go viral. We are also inundated with misinformation from ill-informed sources to disinformation from bad actors and foreign entities.
We have a war on our information systems and as such on our ability to make sense of reality is fractured at best. Sensemaking needs real determination and critical thinking. It needs deep research and an ability to challenge the words being spoken or written as well as the motive or bias, realised or subconscious, behind them. It’s a difficult process in normal times. In these digital times, especially in the last four years, it has become incredibly hard. The weaponization of information from national and international intelligence services and the political parties looking to sway elections and votes has never been so prevalent. Not to mention the feeling of mini-celebrity that someone gets when a post they make goes viral giving them an endorphin buzz that they want, again and again, meaning they seek out new ways to stay relevant.
Add in a pandemic like Covid-19 and we have a critical mass of information overload sprinkled with fear and anxiety to make comprehension and critical analysis almost impossible for millions of people worldwide.
We need to remember all of this before we slate people for panic buying considering that scenario we now live in. These are not normal times, and this is not a normal situation. Remember panic buying is because people are panicking, and they are panicking because they are scared.
We can develop our sensemaking skills in many ways and this “sensemaking” can help to alleviate the stress and fear somewhat. It can help us develop more resilience to infodemic and mass hysteria. We can learn to protect ourselves, our family and friends by developing a range of skills such as metacognitive thinking, critical analysis and meditation, to name just a few.
I will aim to develop a range of tools and techniques from this site in order to help people learn to develop these self-resilience skills and sensemaking capabilities in the weeks and months to come. But for now, let's consider framing and the metacognitive process of considering the frame and the information.
Consider the framing
Part of developing sensemaking and critical thinking is looking to understand the framework or framing from which a message is being communicated. As mentioned, some of these frames are deliberate and some are from people's subconscious biases.
A political leader might try to frame the entire Covid-19 situation as “not a big deal” or “we have it under control” but they may be coming from a framework of protecting the economy over the health and lives of people, this would be a deliberate and planned framing of the message to protect their self-interests or their agenda.
Another person, say your social media buddy, might promote a post that is full of scary “facts” or misinformation because a) it appears to be the social norm and everyone is sharing it, hence = truth in their mind and b) it confirms their subconscious fear-based bias.
One of these is a very deliberate act and the other is less so. Being able to step back from the information we receive, break it down into it component parts; where it originated from, its tone, it’s desired results etc, will help us to manage our reactions to it so as not to become overwhelmed or swept away by it.
The behavioural metacognitive analysis of the framing
I will go deeper and add some content on metacognition and behavioural metacognitive analysis and training in the future. But for now, we will understand it as the process of “thinking about thinking.” The process of thinking about what we are thinking, how we are thinking and deconstructing whether it is “true” or biased in some way. It goes much deeper but for now this should suffice.
In terms of this article we can look at behavioural metacognitive analysis is the process of thinking about the thinking that went behind the words we hear or are read. We can do this in order to gain some insight into where they might truly be coming from.
But also, the metacognitive process can be a way of protecting ourselves because we can question our own thinking around the words, our processing of them and question our own analysis and emotional impact those words may be having. Which again can give us some insight into the motive behind them.
So how can we do this?
Analyse and break down the neurolinguistics: that is the words used, the tone, tempo etc. This can give us huge insights into the possible frame that the person sharing that information may be operating from, I say possible as it is not an exact science.
Whether that be a deliberate frame or not. I am not suggesting we enter a scientific framework of analysis but rather something that protects you as a person from information overload and digesting bad information that can be damaging to your mental health and more.
Then decide whether you want to add this to your world view, your frame of the situation and whether you want to log it mentally as fact or fiction, or just something of interest but not something that you will hold onto. Seriously consider this before you also share that information. A gut reaction share when in an emotional state can lead to sending out bad information we later regret, something I am sure we have all done in one form or another.
Part of the metacognitive process is stepping back to realise and analyse your emotional reaction to your own thoughts or the words you have taken in that then become part of those thoughts. This is great insight for protecting your own mental and neurological health but also that of others. If you have a negative or positive reaction to a piece of information you might want to metacognitively assess if that was the desired result and/or if people you know, and others might react in the same way. Considering this can make us think twice before sharing information and before being swept up by it ourselves.
On a personal note, I am now going to try and get some air during this social distancing lockdown in the UK and go and do some much-needed gardening. Stay safe, practice social distancing and wash your hands. Most of all remember to be kind not everyone has the metacognitive and critical analysis skills you may have, and they may be acting out of fear.