Communities are the foundation stone of disinformation tackling

Whenever some disinformation event, agent or consequence comes into question, it’s very unlikely that the scapegoats are not the technology companies, politicians or the state. This is a too-narrow vision. Those are often the agents exploiting a societal weakness, yes, but they are symptoms of that weakness. They should not be expected to present solutions, but to be pressed to do what the law demands from them. Solutions must come from elsewhere. The easiest way to organise such force is not to wait for elections but to grow and empower communities.

Mass media is not gone, but its ability to reach audiences has been severely damaged because niches bring far greater gratification. Social media added another layer of customisation for audiences to be fully satisfied. Although bots and cyber apps allow data manipulation, the bulk of the job cannot be done without humans. Communication is inherently a human activity, and AI has not reached a way to totally bypass manual management.

This mystique of the combination of human touch and digital management is where the power of disinformation lies. Audiences fall to disinformation not because they are cheated but because they have their frailties make them susceptible. Individuals have the misperceived feeling they found their equals, but they simply have been offered the most comfortable reality version, one customised to their fears and anxieties. Facebook is a nuclear weapon in this sense. The amount of detail available for the best bidder to look for a particular profile is scary. And after onboarding an individual and making him or her feel comfortable, weaponise them is much easier.

To challenge the bad actors’ customised mind hijacking, communities can be a powerful tool. Communities are the primitive versions of niches. They are networks made of usually strong links between the nodes, which often act as self-governed clusters. Communities are accountable, flexible structures, where leadership usually arises with no specific effort, and ties between members tend to be solid and good on crowdsourced problem-solving (if the community hasn’t been artificially built).

Communities are the ideal structure to tackle disinformation. Because of their decentralisation, decision-making is very fast. Members watch over each other, bringing great accountability. Its flexible design can also deploy any solution with great speed, and prompt problem-solving outpaced any formal organisation.

You may ask, “what could be deployed” to task disinformation? Many things, like red-flagging content on a social platform or bringing sources of truth (like official data) into a conversation with unreliable information, checking suspicious profiles to find signals to evaluate its authenticity, discovering fake accounts, among many others. The reality checks we need against disinformation are perfect for communities to tackle. We need to unlock their power. Organised collective action is the strongest resource possible. It’s faster, more flexible, cheaper and literally the only scalable non-proprietary alternative around.

The power-unlocking previously mentioned can come in many ways. Regulation can set clearer rules and responsibilities. A market around information reliability would bring incentives towards a healthier environment. Engagement between communities and professional fact-checkers would take the information monitoring to another level. This text may seem optimistic because the descriptions are all simple and clear, but that’s a herculean task, which would demand unprecedented collaboration — not coincidentally to fight an extraordinary problem.

About the author

Cassiano Gobbet My name is Cassiano and I am a Founder, developer, journalist and digital media specialist. Stories rule our life, even - or especially - when we don't realize it. My stories are built on the products I create, the code I produce and here, in text.